Friday, 30 August 2013

Law students more realistic about their futures

law students studyingFrom the Solicitors Journal 06/08/13:

Nearly half of law students are not confident about getting a training contract after university, a survey has found.

Forty-seven per cent said they were considering other careers as a backup despite almost half claiming they began planning for a legal career before university, according to the survey carried out by careers website Target Jobs.

Actually, that seems quite high given the number of training contracts available out there.

It shows that a good proportion of law students are reasonably optimistic they’ll secure a career as a solicitor despite all the doom and gloom around the current state of legal job market.  Maybe it also reflects the fact there are other ways to qualify as a solicitor for those so inclined to try.  Perhaps students are waking up to this a little more now.

For several years, there have been calls for the size of intakes into law schools to be more closely aligned with the number of vacancies for legal jobs out there. Some kind of recalibration is long overdue.  That’s something that those concerned with legal recruitment & law jobs in London know only too well.

While there’s a lot truth saying that a law degree is a useful qualification in its own right, the simple fact remains the majority of law students study law with the intention of eventually practising.

Like many legal bloggers, I get quite a few emails from students and people just setting out on legal careers asking for advice. It’s pretty clear that the legal recruitment process looks like a convoluted maze to many, riddled with nepotism, bias towards Oxbridge candidates and which is impenetrable by anyone with a ‘Desmond’ or below.

Competition for all legal jobs (and particularly training contracts) has never been higher, but the opportunities are still definitely there. As always, making yourself stand out from the crowd as a candidate is key. Despite recruitment processes becoming more corporate (even sterile), the importance of individual personalities playing a key role in determining who is hired for a particular position should not be overlooked.

Having unusual interests, skills and quirks to your personality can still make the crucial difference – particularly at the interview stage. Many students are tempted to interpret that advice as meaning they need to become attention-grabbers in a bid to get their name out there.

But restraint and sound judgement are called for. Celebrating your more unusual interests or high-octane lifestyle might be one thing, but showing yourself up is quite another. Ill-judged use of social media platforms is an all too frequent way of getting yourself noticed by recruiting law firms in the wrong way. Think about it: the fact you can rival Miley Cyrus when it comes to ‘twerking’ really isn’t a transferrable skill legal recruiters would be interested in.

But it might be just the thing to get you struck off as a candidate for a legal job.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Top 10 sexiest lawyers from the big and small screen

Guest Postgood looking lawyersProfessionals at solicitors like Beecham Peacock would probably tend to agree that lawyers are a good-looking lot, and if you look to the world of TV and film for guidance, you’d certainly believe that all solicitors were sexy men and women with a glamorous lifestyle and a murder case always on the go.

Here we’ve compiled a list of the top ten sexiest on-screen lawyers for your viewing pleasure. We couldn’t possibly put them in any particular order.

Phil Morris, Seinfeld
He might not look his best when playing attorney Jackie Chiles in Seinfeld, what with the big glasses and moustache, but Phil Morris is undeniably one of TV’s sexiest lawyers when you look beneath the make-up.

Calista Flockhart, Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal is a legal comedy-drama which focused on the work as well as the romantic life of its protagonist – a young Boston lawyer of the same name. She was played by American beauty Calista Flockhart, who has been married to Harrison Ford since 2010.

Tom Cruise, A Few Good Men
Tom Cruise plays Lieutenant Junior Grade Daniel Kaffee, a novice US Navy Lawyer, in this courtroom drama movie. No one can deny the superstar’s boyish good looks, especially when he’s in uniform.

Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Will Gardner is a partner at Lockhart/Gardner, the central law firm in the American televisual legal and political drama The Good Wife. The character is portrayed by Josh Charles, who was voted seventh sexiest man alive by People readers in 2011.

Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde
Elle Woods wants to prove that glamour and law are compatible, so she struts into the courtroom with big blonde hair, a pink dress, killer heels and a face of make-up. The stunning Reese Witherspoon plays this sharp yet stylish sorority girl-turned-lawyer perfectly.

Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
Gregory Peck was a heartthrob who won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as lawyer Attius Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. He is renowned for being one of Hollywood’s most handsome stars.

Ryan Gosling, Fracture
Willy Beachum is a hotshot prosecutor in this crime-mystery thriller, played by Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling. The actor has become such a favourite among the ladies that you can download the Hey Girl Google Chrome extension, which changes all pictures on the web to ones of Gosling.

Raymond Burr, Perry Mason
The suave and talented Perry Mason, who moved to TV after being depicted in a series of novels written by Erle Stanley Gardner, was played by Raymond Burr. His distinguished looks – especially those big blue eyes – earned him a place on our list.

Catherine Bell, JAG
The Marine Corps put Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie through law school in the television series JAG, which spanned an impressive ten series. The beautiful and talented Catherine Bell’s fantastic performance is sure to have played a role in its success.

Jeff Winger, Community
Ok, he was disbarred after his law firm found out his degree originated from Colombia the South American country as opposed to the prestigious Columbia University, but how could we not include Jeff Winger, played by Joel McHale?

The actor made this hilarious audition video for People’s sexiest men of 2011 list, where he was placed just behind fellow list-maker Josh Charles but ahead of tenth-place Ryan Gosling.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Grounds for Divorce - A Simple guide

Guest Postgrounds for divorceFew people marry without the hope or expectation that the union will last forever, but for many couples, there comes a time when continuing in an unhappy marriage is no longer and option and thoughts turn to divorce.

To obtain a divorce under English law, certain requirements must be met. The first is that the marriage must have broken down to the extent that there is no possible chance of a reconciliation. The other requirements depend on which one of the five specific grounds allowed for divorce is being sought.

Many people approach their divorce lawyer with the mistaken belief that it is possible to get a divorce by citing irreconcilable differences, but this cannot be used under UK law. The closest UK equivalent is unreasonable behaviour. To use this as grounds of divorce you need to show that the other party has behaved in a way that is so unreasonable that you can no longer live with him or her.

While you may be concerned about whether you will be able to provide sufficient evidence of this for a divorce lawyer to be able to proceed, the reality is that the courts are not usually overly zealous. Cases may involve a refusal to share financial responsibility, physical threats, verbal insults, regular drunkenness or drug taking.

Unreasonable Behaviour
Unreasonable behaviour is by far the most commonly used of the five main grounds for divorce in the UK, because along with adultery, it allows a divorce to take place almost instantly. If parties decide to use other routes to divorce it can take at least two and up to a maximum of five years for the petition to be granted.

For example, if your husband or wife refuses to allow a divorce, you can still have one granted if you have lived apart for more than five years. If the other party agrees to the divorce in writing, you can apply for a decree absolute after just two years of living apart.

Desertion can also be used as grounds for divorce if your husband or wife has left against your wishes and you have been apart for more than two years during the past two and a half years.

Adultery can be used as grounds for an instant divorce if your husband or wife has sex with someone else and, as a result of the betrayal, you no longer feel able to live with them. It is important to note that if you continued to live together for more than six months after the affair, you can no longer use adultery as grounds.

It is also worth noting that, despite being in the pre-dawn of the era of same-sex marriage, the law of adultery remains firmly rooted in the past. At present a person can only commit adultery with someone of the opposite sex.

If you partner is unfaithful to you with someone of the same sex, you will not be able to use adultery as grounds for divorce. You would, however, be able to cite unreasonable behaviour as grounds and therefore still be able to get a divorce without the extended waiting times required by other grounds.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer

Seeking legal redress for a personal injury you have suffered can be a traumatic experience. Choosing the right firm to handle your case can go a long way to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Although many personal injury lawyers specialise in a particular area such as road traffic incidents, occupational or medical negligence etc. it is common for a wide variety of personal injury areas to be collectively handled by a single firm – certainly in the case of the larger, more renowned ones.

A short while researching your options on the internet would likely prove to be time well spent. The Law Society maintains a database with a helpful search tool to aid you in finding a suitable lawyer. You can narrow your search by geographical area which can make it easy, for example, to search for personal injury solicitors in Milton Keynes.

You may also want to consider checking whether a personal injury lawyer you intend to instruct is accredited by a recognised body such as APIL (Association of Personal Injury Lawyers). In addition, a simple internet search using Google or another popular search engine will not only reveal a multitude of personal injury lawyers but can also prove useful in searching for reviews of particular firms.

While some clients might feel inclined to opt for a local high street solicitor, many others choose to a firm which specialises in personal injury cases. Many of those firms advertise on TV and routinely handle all manner of personal injury related cases. It should be borne in mind that choosing a specialist personal injury lawyer may bring several advantages: not only will they be more conversant in all possible elements of your case but will be in a better position of choosing the best strategy and able to advise you at an earlier stage of the probable outcome.

One word of warning: be wary of firms who actively solicit your business through cold-calling or through door-to-door ‘sales’. While reputable firms of course advertise, personal injury firms who use invasive cold-calling techniques may not be trusted to have your best interests in mind.

Many – in fact most – firms handle personal injury type claims on a no-win no-fee basis – formally known as a conditional fee arrangement. On this basis, if your case succeeds, you recover the full value of the damages (compensation) you are awarded and do not have to pay your lawyer’s fees as they are recovered from the opposing side.

If your case is unsuccessful, however, as the claimant you are potentially liable for not only your own lawyer’s fees but also those of the opposing side plus expenses. In actual fact, though, this eventuality is managed by way of insurance. However, be sure to clarify the details concerning payment up front – if only for your own peace of mind.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Why You Need A Will

Guest Postwills and estate planningIt is recommended that everyone have a will drawn up to govern their assets in the event of their death. Whilst few people want to consider their own mortality, a will is an important tool used to protect grieving family members from having to manage the complex legal issues surrounding your estate after you have passed away.

Although wills can be made independently, the greatest security is offered through making a will with an experienced solicitor. Ask family and friends for firms they have previously used, or look to companies with solid local representation such as Breens Solicitors.

When people die without a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’ and as such, a wide range of very strict rules are applied to their assets. The first of these is the appointment of an executor to the estate, who oversees the distribution of wealth. During the process of writing a will, parties are able to choose your own executor. If someone is to die intestate, they no longer have this choice.

Moreover, laws for the deceased person’s accounts mean that only the first £325,000 of their assets are tax free. In some cases, this can mean that the family left behind must deal with a substantial tax bill. If two parties are cohabiting but unmarried, there is no tax relief at all.

In these instances, it can be wise to establish a trust. This means that the estate is transferred to a trust manager – or trustee – whilst the estate owner is still living, and they are then in a position to handle the estate after the bereavement. In these cases, the assets of the deceased do not need to pass through the probate system which is involved in executing a will. In some cases, establishing a trust can bring enormous tax savings for descendants who would otherwise need to meet substantial inheritance tax bills.

Provisions for children are also made in the will. This means that the guardianship of any minor is appointed to a named individual. If someone dies intestate, it is left to the courts to determine the most appropriate guardian for any remaining children. Of particular note is the fact that if two parents are not married, guardianship will not automatically pass to the surviving parent. It can be important to provide for this in the will, which is a legally binding document and would ensure the children remained with their living parent.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Fears of rising compensation culture drives a lack of compensation for injured workers

Guest Postemployee compensation claimFor many years, successive governments have been claiming that employers are in the grip of health and safety rules and regulations amidst rising compensation claims. Additional fears have been of a rising health and safety culture, and an increasing litigation culture.

Indeed, last year David Cameron was prompted to highlight the fact that “it is simply much too easy for no-win-no-fee lawyers to encourage trivial claims against businesses, which end up settling out of court because it is too expensive to fight the case,” alongside a statement that Britain’s compensation culture was “spiralling out of control.”

A recent Trades Union Congress (TUC) commissioned report paints a different picture, however. According to the report, the number of people actually receiving compensation for workplace injuries or related actually fell from 219,183 in 2000/01 to 87,655 in 2011/12.

Furthermore, the report, published in health and safety journal Hazard, highlights a more serious matter. The figures show that there in excess of 4,000 deaths per year as a result of work-related chronic bronchitis, emphysema and similar diseases. Only 59 such cases received any form of compensation last year. Last year saw 221,000 cases of work related stress, anxiety, depression and similar, with only 293 being compensated. Other figures show that the chance of getting a payout for an occupational cancer is lower than one in 50.

Overall, less employment related compensation claims are being brought, and less compensation is being paid. The number of such successful claimants has fallen by 60% over the last decade- with nine out of ten injured workers never getting compensation- hardly a rising litigation culture.

For every statement and point of view, there is an alternative viewpoint. Following the publication of the report, the TUC and other commentators find the idea that the government is highlighting a growing compensation culture actually somewhat absurd.

According to the report’s author, Professor Rory O’Neill, occupational health professor at Stirling University and the editor of Hazard, “the Government’s cynical promotion of a compensation culture myth means many workers who are dying in pain are also dying in poverty.”

In support, the TUC has long fought against the notion that there is a spiralling compensation culture in the UK. As far back as 2005, the TUC was critical of the idea that employers’ liability insurance was just another burden on businesses. In the wake of this 2013 report, the TUC is still fighting against this concept; “the true government motive here is to weaken health and safety laws and make it harder to for victims to pursue claims. Unfortunately the end result is likely to be a much higher rate of workplace accidents.”

The above comment from Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, refers to the fact that the coalition cut both the scope and budget of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, and eliminated strict liability claims (where there has been a breach of health and safety legislation, but employer negligence is not proven). The TUC stresses that the overly cautious health and safety culture that the government claims has arisen does not exist; an example cited is that, contrary to popular opinion, few businesses are confronting a rising tide of constant risk assessments. According to TUC figures, in 2012 there were two million UK employees with workplace related injuries- most of which were preventable by taking common sense precautions.

By emphasising the rising compensation culture, the regulations subsequently imposed, and the onerous legal process now involved, makes it harder for genuine claimants to successfully pursue a claim against a genuinely negligent employer. As Jim Sheridan MP plainly summarised, coalition policies are “simply undermining the important issue of health and safety at work,” and the government’s “approach to health and safety encourages [negligent] employers.” Supporting such a withering criticism of government policy is the simple fact that recent changes to legal aid now make it harder to bring a compensation claim in some cases.

In defence of its stance on this matter, a government statement referred to the fact that “the burden of health and safety red tape had become too great,” and that efforts have been made and will be made to ensure that health and safety at work remains a priority, but without excessive paperwork and unnecessary over-caution. Doubtless thinking ahead to 2015’s election, the prospect of an EU referendum, proposals include repatriating some employment and health and safety measures from the EU over time, to make such matters easier more straightforward for businesses.

Whether there is a compensation culture in the UK or not, the recent TUC report does highlight one significant matter. There are many thousands of UK employees who have been injured at work, and who are quite simply not receiving the compensation that is deserved. Whether this is due to government policies, legal technicalities, unscrupulous employers, or other factors is, for those injured, somewhat irrelevant. Essentially, a great many injured employees are unable to get compensation or justice for their workplace injuries; that is the most serious matter here, and needs to be addressed.

Guest article provided on behalf of – specialists in accident and injury compensation claims.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Marmite donates to RSPCA after ad complaints

From the BBC 08/08/13:

The company behind Marmite has donated £18,000 to the RSPCA after some viewers said its latest advert trivialised the work of animal welfare agencies.

"Marmite have put their money where their mouth is," said Matt Cull, a fundraiser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The TV advert, in which a spoof rescue team "saves" neglected jars of Marmite, has now prompted around 400 complaints.

Marmite_500g_450_tcm28-293449You can’t account for the crazy sensibilities of the viewing public. There are a lot of over-sensitive people out there just itching to make a complaint about the first thing that pops into their tiny minds.

"Marmite have offered us £18,000, which is how much it costs to run our inspectorate service for one day," continued Mr Cull.

"This will make a massive difference to the animals and we are very grateful for their generosity."

Granted, the ad is slightly off the wall (aren’t the best ones always like that?) but any rational, right-minded person surely can’t regard it as offensive. And look at the good it’s done. It reminds viewers of the brand (heck, I’ve got a jar of Marmite in the cupboard), it’s got people talking and has raised the profile of animal charities and the RSPCA has even got some money out of it. Can’t be bad.

Besides, Marmite the Law Actually bunny gave the ad the paws up so it must be good.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Employers need to be doing more to prevent industrial diseases

Guest PostIndustrial Disease ClaimsRecent figures show that dangerous workplace occurrences remain prevalent, implying that employers could do more to protect workers from occupational diseases.

Roberts Jackson solicitors handle claims on behalf of employees suffering from occupational diseases on a daily basis. Based on the cases our legal team frequently have to handle, we firmly believe that many employers could be doing more to protect the health and safety of their staff members.

Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, a national watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness confirm our concerns.

Annual figures from HSE show that 452,000 new work-related illness and occupational disease cases were started in 2011/2012. While these statistics are lower than previous years, it suggests that there are still a staggeringly high number of people being diagnosed with occupational illnesses and diseases.

New cases from past exposure

Work-related illnesses and diseases such as asthma, asbestosis and mesothelioma can take years to develop. So, a number of the new cases recorded in 2011/2012 are likely to have been down to previous exposure to hazardous substances at work.

For example, deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma have risen greatly since 1974. As the diseases can take between 30 and 40 years to develop, the increasing number of new diagnoses may have been caused by people working in unsafe environments in the 70s.

Current dangers causing occupational illnesses

While a number of occupational disease cases recorded in 2011/2012 are likely to have been caused by hazardous workplace conditions from years gone by, there is still evidence to suggest that current workplaces are causing people to suffer from diseases, injuries and illnesses.

According to data recorded by RIDDOR outlining the dangerous occurrences reported to all enforcing authorities, the number of workplace hazards has been similar between 2007 and 2012.

While the total amount of reported dangerous incidents has fallen from 9532 to 6875 across this period, there has been an increase in the following:

  • Release or escape of biological agents
  • Breathing apparatus failures
  • Uncontrolled release or escape of a dangerous substance

The growing presence of these hazards in the workplace could be having a serious impact on employees at present, particularly with regards to their breathing. For example, contact with air-borne substances without wearing correct breathing equipment can lead to the onset of occupational asthma symptoms or another respiratory disease.

Also, as exposure to dangerous substances and incidents in the workplace remains prevalent, we could start to see further new cases of work-related asthma and breathing conditions in the future as people start to develop symptoms as a result of their current contact with hazards.

Reducing present dangers to employees

The number of dangerous occurrences and new work-related injury and illness cases that have recently been recorded implies that a number of employers could be doing more to protect the health and safety of their employees.

By carefully following the regulations put in place to prevent or reduce hazards in the workplace, employers can gain greater control over possible hazards. If more chose to properly adhere to their legal obligation to protect employees at work, this could in turn help to reduce the number of dangerous incidents and occupational diseases currently being recorded.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Kids get first phone at the age of 7

…says some survey or another.

Baby PhoneFrom Crave 08/08/13:

Mobile Phone Checker's survey asked around 1,000 parents about the mobile habits of their children, discovering that most parents issue mobile phones to their offspring for safety reasons.  Kids typically get their first phone at the age of 7.

At the age of WHAT?!?

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom recently found in a wider survey that anklebiters tend to get their first phone at around 10 years of age. Upon starting secondary school, they're likely to switch to a smart phone, possibly because of social pressure from classmates.

According to this latest survey, a decade ago younglings were likely to have got a phone at the age of 13 -- but in 2003 that would have been an old-school brick of a mobile "for emergencies", long before phones became more about apps, games, surfing and sending pictures of your unmentionables to random strangers.

While on a train to London the other day, I had the displeasure of being seated next to  some little munchkin who couldn’t have been much over 5.  (Thank God I only had to endure him from Reading!).  It was with some disquiet that I noticed he had a much newer and nicer smartphone that I have.  What’s more, he bagsied the power socket as soon as he plonked himself down on the seat beside me.

Do kids of that age really need a smartphone?

What the heck do they use them for?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Charlotte Dymond Murder – by Pat Munn

The Murder of Charlotte Dymond (Book Review)I published a couple of posts on the Charlotte Dymond murder a few years ago (here and here) and in that time I have developed quite an interest in the story. I’m rather ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read ‘The Charlotte Dymond Murder’ by Pat Munn previously, but now I’ve finally gotten round to it, I wanted to share some of my immediate thoughts.

The book was published in 1978, after Munn’s interest was piqued by a surprise telephone call from an author friend in 1973, asking if she knew anything about the story. Pat soon found herself gripped by the case and began what can only be described as a tireless crusade to uncover what she felt to be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Before going any further, it’s worth saying that the book is a testament to Munn’s years of painstaking and meticulous research. Pat, who died in 2009, was a well-respected local historian, Cornish Bard and academic and nobody can possibly find fault with the lengths she went to in researching the case. Her efforts were truly exemplary.

Still, being a rather critical kind of chap, I’m going to focus on what I didn’t like about the book (and there are quite a few things). Sorry.

To begin with, the biased standpoint Pat adopted was strangely ironic given many of the points about justice and objectivity she goes on to make. I found her bias grated on me considerably - principally because she went out of her way in the introduction to proclaim her objectivity.

“[T]he facts, as I have been given to understand them, are set out for readers to draw their own conclusions.”

Sorry, everyone - that’s utter poppycock.

It’s abundantly clear that during the early stages of her research, Pat came to the firm conclusion that Matthew Weeks was innocent. Indeed, she essentially devotes the book to establishing his innocence. The text is not slightly biased – it is gravely so. None of this undermines the quality of Pat’s research, but the bias is simply too great to ignore.

Secondly, the style of writing in the book is patchy and, in the main, surprisingly poor. After a well-written introduction and opening chapter, the writing style adopted in the main section of the book is awkward, clumsy and, in many places, difficult to follow. Curiously, the final two chapters return to a better and clearer style of writing. The quality of the writing is surprising given that Pat was a graduate and lectured in English and religious studies at Cornwall Technical College. Pat herself remarks on the change in style in her introduction.

“When I came to write up my findings, even the style was not really mine. This may be apparent in chapter two, where the formal lapses into the vernacular; and that way it stayed for the rest of the book.”

But that doesn’t explain the whole story. The style is not merely vernacular; the majority is paraphrased from the evidence she unearthed in her research, but such paraphrasing is badly structured and poorly chosen. For someone who went to such great pains in her research, it is difficult to understand why the writing was not a bit more polished. That it passed through the editing process is even more odd.

Thirdly, Munn placed a strange amount of importance on rather flimsy (nay – almost worthless) evidence. The two best examples of this are the ‘ghost evidence’ and a bizarrely held focus group in which she tasked local schoolchildren with writing an essay on all they knew of the Charlotte Dymond story.

As regards the ‘ghost evidence’ (an apt term actually), Munn suggested that as all the reported supernatural activity surrounding the story - alleged sightings of apparitions and suchlike - involved Charlotte’s ghost and not Matthew’s, this should be treated as evidence that something was amiss in Matthew being found guilty. Alongside the credible arguments Munn advances which have their basis firmly in the real, physical world, giving such credence to supernatural ‘evidence’ inevitably detracts from the strength of her argument as a whole.

As much as I disapproved of the evidential weight Munn attached to the reported supernatural activity, I found the section detailing the mysterious events that she and others had apparently experienced utterly gripping.
These included:

  • Coffee which had an inexplicably heavy scent of female perfume (that same smell was smelt by someone else at the suspected scene of Charlotte’s death).
  • During the writing process of the book, the sound of Pat’s typewriter being used without anybody being near it at the time.
  • Flowers which mysteriously appeared on Charlotte’s grave from time to time and rose bushes which miraculously changed location (and back again) seemingly at will and with no damage to the plant.
  • Drivers witnessing a female figure clad in period clothes similar to Charlotte’s when driving across Bodmin Moor.
  • Bloodstains mysteriously appearing on the wall near her grave from time to time.
  • Battle-hardened soldiers training on the moor being spooked by various apparitions.
  • The fragment of a ghostly conversation overheard by a woman in the middle of the night living in a cottage near to where Matthew claims he left Charlotte to continue her journey alone.

These details make for a tantalising layer to the story, but they have no place alongside the factual evidence recorded contemporaneously – regardless of your belief in the supernatural.

Returning to her strangely concocted focus group, Munn felt it was important to test the extent to which the Charlotte Dymond story had pervaded local history and the locals’ knowledge. To achieve this, she asked pupils of a variety of ages to write essays on all they knew about Charlotte Dymond. This included children of native families who had been based in the local area for generations as well as from families who had moved there in recent times. Some were set the task as homework; others had to write their essay in exam-like conditions. Pat acknowledged that a television documentary about the Charlotte Dymond murder, filmed for the popular Pebble Mill show, was aired some weeks prior to the essays being written and was forced to admit that this necessarily coloured the results.

Despite the unscientific set-up, Pat attaches a good deal of importance to the results of this experiment which doesn’t quite square with her otherwise meticulous and methodical approach to research.

However, when you stop to examine the later chapters, her gambit becomes clear. Munn tries desperately to persuade the reader that the relative ignorance of the story amongst the younger generations of indigenous families in the local area is because the story regarding Charlotte’s death was and is taboo. The reason for this taboo status, Pat argues, is that the local folk at the time knew Charlotte killed herself and Matthew served as the perfect scapegoat to divert the shame and guilt that a suicide would bring with it. Pat further muses that the common bloodlines (which includes a wild-guess at the identity of Charlotte’s mother), coupled with the close-knit nature of the Cornish, meant that Charlotte was related to many of the key characters involved. Their relationship with a suicide victim apparently meant that the associated shame and guilt would be intolerable. To combat this, Munn theorises that the local inhabitants closed ranks and embarked on a conspiracy of huge proportions.

In an attempt to back this up, Munn points to the erection and maintenance of a memorial stone on Bodmin Moor as a tacit admission of the locals’ knowledge of the real circumstances behind Charlotte’s death.

It’s worth considering Munn’s conclusion of suicide a little further. After building up a relatively credible story of a grotesque miscarriage of justice, Pat’s final conclusion that Charlotte killed herself for reasons unknown (maybe she thought herself pregnant, she muses…) falls woefully short of plausibility.

The biggest problem with the suicide theory is the wound inflicted on Charlotte’s neck. The surgeon who gave evidence at the trial consistently emphasised that while it was not impossible for a wound of that type to have been inflicted by Charlotte herself, he thought it extremely unlikely that she could have inflicted upon herself the wound which ended her life. Indeed, after the defence argued their case, he returned to the stand to clarify, lest there be any confusion, that in all the circumstances, he did not believe Charlotte capable of inflicting the wound herself.

Let’s not forget the nature of that wound (quoted from Linda Stratmann’s comments on the murder):

The wound that had ended Charlotte’s life had been terrible indeed. It was eight and a half inches in length, starting on the left side of her neck and extending all the way around to the right. It passed two and a half inches below her ear and was two and a half inches deep. It was deeper on the left side, where the whole of the soft tissues were divided right down to the bone. The windpipe was completely divided, the oesophagus partly. The instrument had even gone between two vertebrae partially separating them. It was clear that great force had been used. The roughness of the sides of the wound meant that the instrument was unlikely to have been very sharp.

There were no initial, tentative cuts, but two great scything incisions with a weapon of relative bluntness. That’s not consistent with your average neck-slitting suicide wound – no matter how convinced you are of Matthew’s innocence.

On balance, I find it impossible to regard Munn’s theory of suicide as anything other than hugely wide of the truth.

Putting Munn’s preposterous theory of mass conspiracies and suicide to one side, the book’s greatest achievement is that it throws light on a grotesque miscarriage of justice.

It is clear that the criminal justice system left an awful lot to be desired in the mid 1800s. In her closing chapter, Pat remarks candidly that Matthew’s trial was a farce. When all of the details are considered, nobody can possibly argue otherwise. The quality of the investigation was sloppy, inaccurate and inconsistent, Matthew’s treatment at the hands of the police was horrifyingly unjust and the committal hearing and the trial were both a fait accompli. The absence of justice in this case wasn’t just lacking – it was disgusting.

But let’s not confuse the problems with the lower standards of care and accuracy taken in preparing and trying criminal cases in those days with Matthew’s innocence.

Before reading the book, I had always felt that despite the conviction resting on circumstantial evidence (which was rather flimsy in places, at that), the guilty party had been found and convicted. But, on greater reflection, when you stop to consider the facts and the treatment that was meted out to Matthew, it’s tough to come to the conclusion that his conviction was safe.

So in this respect, if no other, the book has successfully persuaded me and altered my opinion of Matthew Weeks’ guilt.

Put simply, I’m not sufficiently convinced that Matthew murdered Charlotte to regard his conviction as safe. By the same token, I’m by no means convinced of his innocence, either. But there is simply no way that his being found guilty by the Cornish jury with the circumstances as they were, can be safely relied upon as a measure of his guilt.

I would be very surprised if most other readers didn’t come to the same conclusion. On that basis, Pat’s book must be regarded as a success.

The book provides a great read for those who have a particular interest in Cornish history, as well as lovers of true crime stories. Even with all its faults, it does a superb job of highlighting one of the most grotesque failures of criminal justice that you’ll ever likely meet.

The book’s publication also helps to keep alive a story which has captivated countless locals, visitors and schoolchildren over the years. It’s a tale full of sorrow, of injustice, of the flaws and vices of humanity, but above all, it’s an unsolved ‘whodunit’.

We’ll never truly know how Charlotte Dymond met her death all those years ago on Bodmin Moor, and there’s little point pretending otherwise.

But if you are so inclined, this book will allow you to revel in the mystery and to do so with a wealth of facts at your fingertips.

Friday, 9 August 2013

US Law Firm Introduces Standing Desks

Actually, they go one better – desks with treadmills built into them!

I blogged about the potential benefits of lawyers using standing desks earlier this year, so when I spotted the story below on RoF this week, my little eyes lit up.

Taft Treadmill Desks
Ok, I grant you the idea of the average partner in a law firm using a treadmill desk on a daily basis is a little far fetched.  But the health benefits for people who usually lead such a sedentary and high stress lifestyle must not be overlooked.  Those extravagant client lunches have quite an effect on a lawyer’s waistline and billing more hours doesn’t necessarily burn more calories.

Besides, walking for a while at your desk has got to be a lot more efficient at burning fat compared to stressing over an ethical dilemma or having an anxiety attack because of an undertaking the firm has just given.

From Roll on Friday 06/08/13:

A US firm is tackling the threat of morbid obesity that comes from slouching in front of a computer all day or being American by giving its lawyers treadmill desks. Ohio firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP fee-earners can now work-out while they work, lose pounds while they earn dollars, and die of a heart attack while they draft a typo-filled facilities agreement on a 10% incline.

Partner Mary Rust, pictured, told that she uses her treadmill desk for between one and four hours a day to run or walk while she works.

Rust, seemingly delighted that she spends such a large proportion of her life in her office that she has to sprint in it to stop her limbs wasting, said, “There’s very little time in the day that I can’t spend on here.”

It’s just as well most female fee earners have shunned high heels for flats then.

But does this mean that training shoes are the next inevitable step in legal office footwear?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Microsoft to re-brand SkyDrive after Sky victory

Sky - Skydrive Face-off

From Windows IT Pro (written by Paul Thurrott) 01/08/13:

Microsoft confirmed on Wednesday that it will not fight a July ruling by the England and Wales High Court in which it was found to have infringed on British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) trademarks for the term “Sky.” As a result, Microsoft has agreed to rebrand its SkyDrive cloud storage service with a new, as yet-unknown name.

Under the settlement, Microsoft can continue to use the SkyDrive name for a reasonable period of time while it implements a new brand.

BSkyB is a UK-based satellite broadcaster, Internet provider and telephone services firm. It does not make or sell any cloud-based storage services, nor is it clear how the firm could have obtained multiple trademarks for a term as general as “sky.”

Oh, Paul.  Where do we begin?

Perhaps it would be helpful to remind ourselves of the basic criteria a mark must meet to be capable of being registered as a trademark under English law.

Providing the mark meets the basic requirements under the Trade Marks Act 1994 (principally that the mark is distinctive - or capable of distinguishing - one proprietor’s goods or services from another’s and that the mark is capable of being represented graphically), there’s nothing stopping an application being made to register the mark in relation to several categories or ‘classes’ as they’re known.

Funnily enough, ‘cloud-based storage services’ isn’t a class per se. As Paul himself might say, “Go figure”.

Amongst others, the word “Sky” is registered in 2 classes for services (as distinct from goods) - class 38 and class 42.

Class 38 includes computer aided transmission of messages and images and, separately, telecommunications information. Class 42 includes the rental of computer software and home computing services generally.

In its July ruling, the UK court noted that a survey of consumer found that some people did indeed assume that SkyDrive was a BSkyB brand and that such people “should not be regarded as especially unobservant or lacking in ‘circumspectness’.”

Another key point is that “Sky” isn’t just a trademark of BSkyB – it’s their trading name.

On reflection, then, it’s not tough to see why Microsoft’s use of the word “Skydrive” infringed Sky’s trademark.

So why did Paul miss this?

It took just a couple of minutes to look up on the trademark register exactly what classes Sky have registered marks in and compare that to the list of classes available for services.

On top of that, it would have taken a matter of seconds to identify that “Sky” was the trading name of BSkyB.

On the Windows Weekly podcast, Paul often bemoans slipshod and lazy bloggers who fail to do their homework but then have the audacity to sully the internet with their inferior writing. He’s certainly got a point (particularly in the tech sphere) but the record has worn rather thin. Following this latest blooper, maybe it’s time Paul became a little less critical of others and a bit more self-reflective.

Just a thought.