Lord Justice Goldring has been appointed senior presiding judge for England and Wales. Currently deputy senior presiding judge, Lord Justice Goldring will take on his new role from 1 January 2010. He will succeed Lord Justice Leveson, whose three-year term of office finishes at the end of this year. The senior presiding judge oversees the work of the presiding judges in each circuit in England and Wales. He provides a point of liaison between the judiciary, the courts and government departments. He also has overall responsibility for the deployment of work in the courts, dealing with personnel issues below High Court level and liaising with magistrates. Lord Justice Goldring was appointed a High Court judge in the Queens Bench Division in 1999 and served as presiding judge for the midland circuit from 2002-05. He was appointed commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission in 2006, leaving in 2008 to become a Lord Justice of Appeal. He also became deputy senior presiding judge in 2008.
An alliance of solicitor firms is to offer clients a ‘loyalty card’ rewards system in an innovative bid to square up to the threat from big brands entering the legal services market, the Gazette can exclusively reveal. QualitySolicitors.com will launch a loyalty card this month which will enable clients instructing a member firm to earn air miles or accumulate reward points which can be used to purchase further legal services. The organisation, founded earlier this year, comprises more than 150 firms, including recently joined Pannones and Stephensons in the north-west. It is about to relaunch its website with new features, including 24/7 access to a free support service throughout the user’s case and SMS text and online case updates. Chief operating officer Saleem Arif said: ‘People will be able to earn air miles and go on holiday after their divorce or accumulate discounts on repeat and future legal purchases.’
Europe’s foremost human rights court is in ‘crisis’, with a backlog of more than 120,000 cases waiting up to seven years to be heard, lawyers have warned. Leading human rights barrister Lord Lester QC said last week that the influx of new states since the fall of communism in 1989 has plunged Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) (pictured) into ‘crisis’. Speaking at a joint Law Society and Human Rights Lawyers Association event, he said Russia alone accounts for 28% of over 120,000 cases pending. The court’s 47 full-time judges from the Council of Europe’s 47 states, including Russia, were overwhelmed by the volume of work, he said, and a system for ‘screening’ cases for admissibility was urgently needed. Nuala Mole, director of the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Centre, said better case management was required. She said: ‘Some 95% of cases that come to the court are inadmissible and 50% are repeat cases, where the country has ignored the court’s previous finding and violated the convention again. This is an unacceptable waste of court time.’ A meeting scheduled for February 2010 at Interlaken will ‘assess plans for the court’s reform’, she said. Edward Adams, head of the Ministry of Justice’s human rights division, said: ‘Register a case with the court today and you will have to wait until 2016 for it to be resolved – and the backlog is growing.’ A package of reforms known as Protocol 14 has been blocked for the past three years by Russia, he added. Lester added that, although the newly admitted east European states had overwhelmed the court and some had shown scant respect for human rights, they could still be the ECHR’s salvation. ‘They know what persecution is and want protection from it, whereas we in the west are tired and cynical,’ he said. Human rights actions in the UK are heard in the domestic courts rather than the ECHR because the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both proclaimed that their coalition government signals the start of a new era in which politics will be done differently. Obiter had a taste of just how differently at a media briefing last week. The press had been called to attend a photocall with the new communities secretary Eric Pickles, housing minister Grant Shapps and Tory TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp for an announcement on home information packs. Usually these things take place in some kind of conference room at a government department. Not this time. Press were summoned instead to the pavement outside an estate agency in a slightly shabby corner of London’s Battersea. The mandarins had set up a table on the pavement bearing a rather battered model house which, in true Blue Peter style, resembled something ‘they had made earlier’, with sticky tape wound around it. And it was from the roadside that Pickles, just about audible above the heavy traffic noise, announced the scrapping of HIPs. He called on sellers who had saved money by no longer needing a HIP patriotically to spend the cash on paint instead, to boost the economy (B&Q shareholders will be delighted). Shapps, who after months of promising to abolish the packs was denied his moment of glory in not getting to make the announcement himself, told the media and bemused passersby that this was the first of many moves to cut away the swaths of ‘pointless red tape’ introduced by Labour. You can see what’s coming next. Ramming the point home in a visual demonstration of the message, Pickles, Shapps and Allsopp, joined by a random home seller, posed for photos around the model house before dramatically tearing away the tape that bound it. All in all, the most bizarre method of announcing government policy that Obiter has witnessed for a long while. Is this the shape of things to come? And what next? Can we expect to see justice secretary Ken Clarke announcing the latest legal aid cuts from a prison cell, or chancellor George Osborne outlining banking reforms from the queue at his local cashpoint? We can only wait and see.
A former Warwickshire solicitor has been jailed for over two years after committing frauds totalling almost £100,000 which involved former clients and an employee. Victoria Donajgrodzki pleaded guilty to four fraud-related offences committed between April and June 2008. Donajgrodzki qualified as a solicitor in 1993 and set up her own niche employment firm, Employment Integration, in Harbury, Leamington Spa, in 2001. Despite the fact that the firm was on the verge of collapse, she persuaded two former clients and an employee to lend her a total of £98,020, misrepresenting to them the state of the firm’s finances. Those monies have since been repaid. Submitting 76 pages of references for the mother of two, Donajgrodzki’s counsel asked for any custodial sentence to be suspended. But Recorder Bernard Thorogood at Warwick Crown Court last month sentenced her to 26 months in prison, saying the offences were too serious not to be met with a custodial sentence. Donajgrodzki had already been declared bankrupt and struck off the solicitors’ register. Her solicitor, Martin Bourne, partner at Darbys in Oxford, said: ‘She buried her head in the sand and had no clear idea of the firm’s financial position. As her firm was busy she thought things would get better, but accepted that when she borrowed the money she had no realistic prospect of being able to repay it.’
Emerging global economies will fuel a massive demand for legal services by 2030 and provide opportunities for UK law firms, according the Law Society. The Society said firms must respond to that increased demand, or miss out on vital opportunities. It said rapid population growth in major cities in China, India and other emerging markets will create ‘megacities’ with more than 10 million inhabitants, fuelling the demand for legal services. The impact of this change on the legal sector, following the recession, will be a key theme at the Law Society’s International Marketplace III: a brave new world conference to be held at Chancery Lane in London on 1 December. Law Society chief executive Desmond Hudson said: ‘Not only are emerging economies growing, so are many of their populations. That trend towards mass urbanisation is likely to be replicated the world over.’ ‘What that means for the legal sector and what these megacities will need by way of services will be a central talking point of International Marketplace III. ‘2030 might seem like a long way off, but legal practices need to start thinking about what the future holds now, so they can be well placed to absorb the opportunities that come with the shifting economic gravity. The Society will do all it can to support its members for the brave new world.’
The justice secretary has moved to reassure ‘honest’ businesses that they will not need to spend ‘millions’ on new systems to comply with the Bribery Act, whatever they may have been told by advisers. Ken Clarke told parliament that lawyers and consultants ‘will, of course, try to persuade companies that millions of pounds must be spent on new systems that, in my opinion, no honest firm will require to comply with the act’. He said that he will put out ‘very clear guidance’ to help businesses ‘save’ themselves from these advances. Clarke stressed that there will be no watering down of the act, and that the guidance, which the Ministry of Justice is working on, will make clear the boundaries of legitimate company promotion. The Bribery Act introduces a corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery, under which company executives could face personal criminal liability if found to have connived or consented to offering or receiving a bribe. Companies will have a defence if they can show they had adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery. The guidance on the act will advise businesses on what steps they should take to ensure that they are trying to prevent bribery. It was due to be published in January, with the act itself planned to come into force in April, but implementation was delayed amid concerns from business lobbies over the clarity of the legislation. The MoJ said that the act will come into force three months after the guidance is published. Clarke said: ‘I believe that it is possible to produce guidance and enforce the act in a way that produces rigour and fairness. ‘There is no backing down from the principles of the act at all. ‘The guidance must make it absolutely clear that ordinary, legitimate promotion – hospitality and similar activities in which people engage in order to project the quality of their company and its products or services, and to establish personal relationships with clients and customers – is all part of international trade. ‘The [act] can be used to tackle corruption without damaging British business at a time of, we hope, revival in our international trade.’
The European Court of Justice wants to change its Rules of Procedure. The amendments are at an advanced stage, and are currently being discussed with the Council of the European Union. The CCBE has welcomed most of the changes, but has pointed out some serious reservations relating to access to justice. Among the steps welcomed are the prominence given to the rules applicable to preliminary references, which form an increasing proportion of the Court’s workload, and also to the rules governing direct actions and appeals. The insertion of a clear procedure for applications for legal aid, and clarification of its application to preliminary reference cases, will provide recognition of both the urgent and sensitive nature of such applications. However, without wishing to undermine the fact that most of the changes are welcomed, I will focus here on the reservations. First, the CCBE is against the extension of the power to dispense with an oral hearing, for a number of reasons. The oral hearing is a major feature of access to justice. In references for preliminary ruling, it is critical, since it is the only opportunity to reply to the observations filed by other parties. In other cases, which raise technical and complex issues, the oral hearing represents the occasion when all involved in the case – the judges, lawyers and parties – focus on the case at the same time. In a recent year, the Court decided 600 cases, 180 of which had an oral hearing. This is less than a third of all cases decided, which does not suggest a need for even greater flexibility not to hold an oral hearing. Another potential problem is the proposed selective translation of written pleadings. The new Article 58 will empower the Court, by decision, to determine criteria for the translation of written pleadings to be limited to the translation of their “essential passages”. While the Court, for understandable reasons, has chosen to use a single language for internal purposes (historically, French), parties are entitled to address the Court in the language of the case, and are entitled to have their pleadings heard by the Court. This is not merely a statement of the law, but a necessary pre-condition for the maintenance of public confidence in the EU’s judicial system. Any rule that only part of the pleadings of a party should be translated into the internal language of the Court implies that the Court will not hear the totality of that party’s pleadings. This cannot be reconciled with the requirements of due process and access to justice under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The proposal appears to envisage that the Court, in a way that is not transparent to the parties, will decide which passages of a party’s pleadings are “essential” and thus worthy of translation. Is it suggested that it will really be the Court which decides which parts go to translators, or will it be translators seeking to interpret guidelines from the Court? In addition, the proposal would directly advantage parties from particular member states, namely francophone ones, over those from other states, since parties submitting their written pleadings in French will have those pleadings heard in full by the Court, while others who rely on their right to submit pleadings in the language of the case may be heard only in relation to that part of the pleadings that the Court chooses to receive. The EU Institutions will be part of the privileged few, given the convention that they supply French translations of their pleadings. This would directly discriminate between parties from different member states in relation to the fundamental right of access to justice. Finally, the CCBE is concerned that the Report for the Hearing will be abolished. It is a useful document in so far as it demonstrates the Court’s understanding – or on occasion misunderstanding – of the parties’ arguments. It has been of particular importance in complex cases before the General Court. The report for the hearing has always had the useful function of presenting an objective overview of the case, to the benefit of both judges and parties, prior to – and with great benefit for – the oral hearing. By containing a full account of the undisputed facts of the case and a summary of the respective arguments of the parties, it is the basis of the judgment to come. The CCBE has other suggestions, such as the possible introduction of provision for Amicus Curiae submissions and, maybe most pertinently here, the possible participation by stakeholders in a Rules Committee. The CCBE proposes a Rules Committee to meet once per year, which would recognise that the administration of justice within the EU is a cooperative endeavour involving all those concerned. Hear, hear!
Nick Kehoe is a former television and newspaper journalist. He is now managing director at law marketing firm Media Coverage We’ve yet to see what impact big money brands will have on the legal market but the general consensus seems to be that it won’t be pretty. Legal services sold like cans of beans by giant corporations with no soul or sense of duty and no passion for law; only for making money. The result: thousands of high street firms going out of business as everyone falls before the machine-like efficiency of the conglomerates. At least, that’s how the pessimists see it. I’m not so sure. Of course, some smaller firms will fall victim. And those that survive will almost certainly lose market share. But will it really be the end for so many? I don’t think so. On the contrary, as long as firms can adapt, there is plenty of room for optimism. Catherine Baksi, in her In Business blog, pointed out that doom mongers predicted the end of high street optician services when that market was opened up 25 years ago. In fact, the opposite happened with the number of high street outlets growing rather than decreasing, despite the emergence of big-name players such as Boots and Asda. Baksi explores the reasons for this in her post so I won’t go into detail here, other than to say that the big brands who started offering optometry services helped to create a new wave of demand because of their intensive advertising. The result was that the market grew, creating room for everyone. Could the same thing happen in legal services? Probably not to the same degree because the legal and optical services markets are very different, but it’s possible that there will be some growth. Big advertising campaigns will not only tempt clients from one provider to another, as a by-product they may also stimulate new demand. Of course, we don’t know how the big brands will market their services or even which services. And when they do, won’t they be the ones to benefit from any extra demand they create? Well, it’s likely they’ll be the main beneficiaries but probably not the only ones. Advertising may prompt someone into seeking out a legal service they hadn’t realised they needed, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will turn to the advertiser to provide that service. They are just as likely to turn to a high street provider they’ve done business with in the past – as long as that firm had provided a good service. Research by the legal IT provider Peppermint Technology is interesting in this context. It carried out a survey of a thousand consumers and found that when considering legal service providers, the most important factor for them when choosing one was cost and recommendations from others – 44% said they would be swayed by recommendations from friends and 16% said they would ask people they knew from other professions such as estate agents and accountants. Only 15% considered a brand name as a factor. Of course, 15% is extremely important and big firms who can promote their brand will certainly benefit. At the same time, the low percentage shows that brand isn’t everything, regardless of the advertising budget. It means word-of-mouth recommendation is still going to be extremely important. The best way to achieve this is to provide a good service to clients; the second best way is to continue to cultivate those clients long after they have left your office. Find reasons to keep in touch and keep your name fresh in their minds. If you do, they are more likely to return and just as importantly, they will be more likely to recommend you to friends and colleagues. It’s a long-term commitment but it will pay dividends by helping you hold on to clients in the face of advertising campaigns by the big players. Who knows, it may even help you share some of the increased business stimulated by advertising campaigns paid for by other firms. Maybe you could ride along in their slipstream. Now wouldn’t that be satisfying.
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