Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Lousy Legislation and Miller’s Malapropism

what the internet looks like (Small)Maria Miller MP’s speech on the rights and responsibilities of the internet age was published online earlier today.

Having a mooch through it, I spotted a bit of a howler.  Given that the context relates to child abuse online, the slip, if that’s the best term for it, was very unfortunate indeed.

In tackling child abuse online, the new National Crime Agency is bringing greater resources to bare [sic].

Really? Isn’t it, ‘to bear’?

And talking of howlers, I’m not sure I agree with her claim that English law, as it relates to the relatively recent phenomenon of social media, exists as a ‘strong and durable framework’. In fact, it’s anything but.

Quoting again from the speech:

The internet isn’t a ‘Second Life’, it isn’t something where different rules apply, where different behaviour is acceptable – it isn’t the wild west.

To put it simply the rules that apply offline are the same rules that apply online.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The same already applies on social media

The legislation is already in place. And we have the guidelines by the Attorney General on contempt of court - and the Director of Public Prosecution’s on prosecutions involving social media communications – put together they present a strong and durable framework.

Outdated, ill-adapted and unclear would have been a more apt description of the law in my opinion.

Taking just one example from an inordinately long list, what about the bewildering duplication between section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communication Act 1988?

Does that sound like a strong and durable framework to you? Lousy legislating more like.

Let’s stop pretending that papering over the cracks with ‘guidance’ is an adequate substitute for proper public debate, consultation and legislative reform.

Because that’s what’s clearly needed.

Monday, 24 February 2014

All’s well at blogging basecamp

Since the demise of Google Reader last summer, I’ve been pondering the best way to keep up to date with the online content I like to follow.

I’ve tried a bunch of online RSS feed services and standalone applications. One of these was Digg Reader which, despite my best efforts in overlooking its obvious faults, I abandoned quite quickly feeling very underwhelmed.

Well, I’m giving it another go. It’s still missing some functionality that I’d really like to see - such as unread post numbers and the ability to add new content directly into a subfolder. But I still prefer it to the competition, like The Old Reader and Feedly, mainly because of its clean and no-nonsense interface.

Since firing Digg Reader back up, I’ve been pruning and purging some of my subscriptions. All that deadwood just had to go.

It also made sense to thin out the number the blogs that I link to. I don’t feel the need to apologise: if you were on my blogroll but aren’t any longer, I’m sure you won’t have noticed the change (you probably haven’t even ventured into the blawgosphere for at least 12 months!).

I keep meaning to spend some time checking out the blogrolls of other blogs, you know, to see if any new shoots in the ‘sphere have sprouted. It might be worth me having a butchers on Google, too. Someone’s got to be blogging out there!

On top of that, I’m tinkering around with the template of Law Actually in areas. The changes are quite subtle so far, but I’ve some more work to do.

Who knows – maybe a complete redesign is on the cards for later in the year…

Motoring law – Speeding and New Drivers

Guest Postlaw on speedingDoes a speeding fine matter if I’ve a clean licence? Well, apart from the fine it can have a bigger effect than you thought if you only passed your test in the last 2 years. If you’re still on a provisional licence courts may take an even dimmer view

If you’ve passed your test fairly recently you will want to keep your new licence shiny and clean as long as possible. Fairly clearly, not breaking the speed limit is a very good start but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. If you drive a car or motorcycle we’re all familiar with the speed limits of 30 mph in a built up area, 60 on single carriageways and 70 on dual carriageways and motorways. If you’re towing a caravan or trailer you can take off 10 mph from each limit over 30. What often catches drivers out though are the local limits that are imposed on stretches of road by specific signs. Repeater signs are not always used or not used very frequently so can be easy to miss.

If you are accused of speeding, the best outcome is that the police decide to let you off with a warning. Abdul Ali of DFR Solicitors said “How you come across to the police can have a significant impact on this so think and act carefully if you are stopped.” If, however, the charge is pursued and you are found guilty you will face a minimum penalty of a £100 fine (up from its previous £60) and 3 penalty points added to your licence. Any penalty points or endorsements must stay on your driving licence for 4 years, (possibly 11 depending on the offence).

The fine itself is not a cheap impact, however, it may end up being a lot worse than this over the coming years.

Even without picking up further penalty points you can find you are out of pocket more than the £100 fine. Insurance companies in the past tended to generally ignore the first 3 or 6 penalty points but they are now starting to pay attention to any penalty points picked up by younger and newer drivers. This means that at your next renewal, and renewals for the following 3 years, you can find that you’re paying a premium to the insurance companies for that one offence. This can easily add up to 4 times the initial fine.

According to “If you only recently passed your driving test – within the last 2 years, your driving licence will be revoked (withdrawn) if you build up 6 or more penalty points rather than the normal 12 for more for more experienced drivers.” So just a single 3 pointer has already taken you halfway there.

If you’ve picked up penalty points on a provisional licence any that haven’t expired when you do pass your test will be carried over to your full licence. The same rules then apply as above – if you reach 6 points within 2 years of passing you’ll lose your licence.

All this means that it makes a lot of sense to engage specialist legal advice if you’ve only passed your test within the last 2 years, even though it’s “just” a first offence. Specialist solicitors will work hard to ensure you aren’t found guilty in the first place. If it looks as though you will be found guilty, as a very useful alternative they can often make a reasoned argument for you to take up a specific driver training course instead. All this can save you much bigger costs and problems ahead.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

School closures during snow

school snow closuresFrom 22/01/14:

When a storm is brewing and the streets are soon to be rendered useless by mounds of snow, there's really only one thing running through every student's mind: please let tomorrow be a snow day. Now there's science to back up canceling [sic] school due to nasty weather. According to a study by Harvard Kennedy School assistant professor Joshua Goodman, keeping the school doors open can actually hurt learning more than a snow day closure.

The explanation for this, according to the article, is as follows. When a school remains open during a period of heavy snow, a lot of parents keep their children at home, whereas others might make it in to class. That throws the pupils’ progress out of sync, often resulting in the children who didn’t attend school during the snowy period missing out relative to their peers. However, where schools take the decision to close because of snow, substitute days are often added to the school calendar to make up for the missed time. (Well – they do in the US apparently.) That keeps classes in sync and ensures the world is a happy, shiny place.

Not convinced?

More pragmatically, there are a lot of other reasons why it might be better for schools to admit defeat during inclement weather and close for the day rather than trying to soldier on with skeleton classes. In most areas of the UK where snow is a rarity rather than a predictable yearly battle, pupils won’t be concentrating on schoolwork when there’s tobogganing to be done or snowmen to build outside. I remember from my school days that the onset of snow during a maths lesson turned into a free-for-all at the windows. Somehow algebra can’t compete with the prospect of playing in the snow.

What’s more, taking the decision to close a school when the weather dictates it really isn’t safe to open avoids all of those other problems, too. You know, like children slipping and injuring themselves in playgrounds resembling ice rinks. Then there’s the dangerous chaos that ensues from mums and dads doing the school run in a hurry in deep snow. Cars, small children and ice are a dangerous combination.

And head teachers have got their blood pressure to think about, after all.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Law Actually – 7 today

Law Actually 7th BirthdayToday marks the 7th birthday of LA. Where the heck has the time gone?

The blawgosphere has changed considerably over the past 7 years with a large number of the student/graduate law blogs that used to be so plentiful almost dying away completely.  I’ve mulled over a lot of the changes previously, so there’s no point in repeating them here.

Any hopes I once held for a blawgging revival are long gone. Other forms of social media have taken centre stage and their popularity shows no sign of receding.  For me, they’re not mutually exclusive, but I know I’m in the minority on this. .

My approach to blogging has changed, too.  I find I create fewer of my own images now – something I used to really enjoy.  Maybe I should get back to playing about in Photoshop a bit more.  I also feature more guest posts now.  I’m still trying to get the balance right with that.  I’ll keep at it.

But the main thing to say here is that whilst there is little sense of a blogging community these days, I enjoy blogging now as much as I did 7 years ago.  As long as that’s the case, I’ll carry on.
Here’s to another 12 months as a blogger.  I’m looking forward to it.  Be right back

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Connubial Chaos – it started with a kiss

Actually, it started with a water pistol and a pork pie. Like all true love stories, right?

Pork Pie Wedding
From the Telegraph 17/02/14:

A couple's wedding celebrations were interrupted by a brawl that is thought to have started over a pork pie.

Officers from the dog section at West Yorkshire Police tweeted that they were on the way to the ''large fight'' in Bradford which led to three arrests.

The tweet said: ''All started over a pork pie apparently!''

Ah. The food for the reception must have been selected from the ‘garage snack’ range rather than the gourmet menu. More shopping cart than a la carte.

Around 30 to 40 wedding guests were involved in the disturbance at the wedding of Wendy Carter and her fiance Ryan Barraclough.

Chris Sowden, 43, steward at the Harold Club said: "People had been drinking since 2pm.

The class of a traditional English wedding!

"It all started with a water pistol then a pork pie got thrown.

It beats confetti I suppose.

"It was completely out of control and by the end about 30 to 40 guests had got involved.

"The bride was devastated. Her dress was ruined, she had a lovely big white gown and it had beer and WKD all over it.

Thank God no champagne was wasted in the brawl, that’s all I can say.

"Mostly people had some cuts and bruises but one of the women involved the initial fight had her cheek bitten and her ear bitten.

Sgt Claire Smith, of Tong and Wyke Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: "Two arrests were made for assault and one for a public order matter."

The public order arrest resulted in a fixed penalty and the other two people were bailed pending further enquiries.

I wonder if the bride and groom honeymooned in Melton Mowbray?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Reducing Stress Whilst Studying Law

beating stress - law student

From 15/02/14:

It’s true, your first-year of law school will be stressful, very stressful.  From managing all of your assigned reading to preparing for three finals in the same week, time management is key. 

So, how does suggest student combat that stress?

Log your hours.  Your first-year of law school will instill some odd new characteristics into you.  One of which is this feeling of guilt you’ll get when you’re not studying.  It feels like you’re not doing enough.  I found a simple way of combating this problem—logging your hours.  So you’ve spent four hours in the library today.  Log those hours.  You spent two hours studying before bed.  Log those hours.  Then at the end of the week, look back at what you’ve accomplished. 

Actually, that’s quite a good idea (and one which, refreshingly, isn’t face-slappingly obvious). It also has the useful side effect of getting students comfortable with recording their time – something which is essential in legal practice. BTW - do LPC providers still require students to ‘run’ a pretend case and record their hours and the usual rigmarole that goes with handling a matter (such as writing up attendance notes, closing matters and the like)? I doubt it.

Make a checklist.  Checklists are a wonderful thing.  You simply keep a running list of the things you must accomplish throughout the week.  As those things are completed, you check them off.  I’ve even heard that the act of “checking something off” produces a chemical reaction in the brain inspiring happiness and calm. 

Depressingly trite. It’s a to-do list in other words. As for the chemical reaction hoojamaflip, what absolute bollocks. To do lists are good – just don’t let’s pretend they’re a panacea to anything.

Keep up with friends […].  Sometimes it helps to get away from a legal environment.  Often times the people you communicate with while attending law school are exclusively law students. [Kind of figures, doesn’t it?]  When you’re not talking about your classes, they are.  Your mind needs a break from school.

As suggestions go, it’s hardly left field. But the point is a good one: all students need some down time.

Workout, often.  Working out is one of the best ways to reduce stress during law school

It’s one way, granted. Staying fit is important, you don’t have to head down the gym and put yourself through the pain of a punishing routine to achieve it. It’s far more important to eat and sleep well, have a regular, balanced routine and try to enjoy the course.

Easy peasey. Who said that studying law was difficult?  Be right back

Monday, 10 February 2014

Are Human Rights Improving or Regressing?

Guest Post

Around the world, human rights remain an important topic. Over the last 50 years, they have evolved from an abstract goal into a concrete set of rights that remain a major topic of activists, political leaders, and global journalists.

Today, human rights remain a controversial topic. A recent news article in the Mail Online was published with the headline “Human Rights an Affront to Justice”, arguing that payments sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights had been given out to criminals, threatening the pursuit of justice.

Within Europe and the UK, human rights are often the subject of political debates and discussions. Throughout the world, however, they play a different role. Human rights are an important part of maintaining stability and quality of life in many of the world’s most dangerous and oppressive countries.

Foreign secretary William Hague spoke about the importance of defending human rights at the recent Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Hague praised non-governmental organisations, stating “human rights defenders languishing in the prisons of repressive regimes are not forgotten because of British NGOs.”

The importance of defending human rights becomes clear when confronted with a list of the countries that don’t uphold them. North Korea, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and many others are all guilty of ignoring essential human rights and oppressing people.

Looking over the offenders, it becomes immediately clear that defending human rights goes hand in hand with protecting human decency.

With many parts of the world engulfed in war, some people believe that there has been little progress made in defending and ensuring human rights during the last half-century. Human rights as a concept – albeit not as a concrete legal term – have an interesting history that extends back far further than 50 years.

All of the world’s major religions explored and considered the importance of human rights and decency, albeit not necessarily under the banner of human rights. In some ways, the basic human rights that we respect and uphold today were outlined in the Ten Commandments.

The wars of the 20th century stand as important examples of what can occur when governments ignore human rights in favour of other priorities. The human rights that we benefit from today were, not surprisingly, established in the wake of huge destruction and human suffering during World War II and the Holocaust.

On the 10th of December 1948, just three years after the end of World War II, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration is still the most important document on human rights, and the fundamental source for measuring whether or not human rights are still observed and respected today.

51 member states signed the document in December 1948 – a number that’s since grown to include 192 members of the United Nations. The document, which was as the time thought of as idealistic, has since been upheld by the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council and is regarded as one of the most important documents for keeping the world peaceful and respectful of human decency.

Unfortunately, there are still many countries that do not observe or respect human rights. In many parts of the world, the rights given to women, children, and the poor are abused or ignored. Over 60 million people still live in extreme poverty according to the World Bank.

While the 30 fundamental human rights outlined in the 1948 declaration remain the same, the challenge of upholding these rights continues to trouble many of the UN’s member states. Governments are still forced to consider how to best uphold human rights using political, social, and economic means.

This article was written by Vannin Capital. Visit their website to learn more.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Car Window Policeman Pay-Out Demonstrates Legal Right over Emotional Reaction

Guest Post

Car Window Policeman Pay-Out Demonstrates Legal Right over Emotional ReactionThe newspaper headlines this week that have bemoaned and cried in shock at the decision to award ex-police officer Mike Baillon £430,000 in damages demonstrate that media outrage and emotional reaction account for little compared to legal right.

Mr Baillon quit his job as a police officer after a video of him smashing a pensioners car window went viral and was viewed by more than 30 million people worldwide. He claimed that other officers were making his position in the police force untenable and he felt forced to leave his position.

But despite the widespread criticism that Mr Baillon received from co-workers and others in the wake of his action, he was cleared of any wrongdoing and his complaint of constructive dismissal was upheld.

The internal investigation into the case cleared Mr Baillon and found that he had expertly used a conflict management technique known as an ‘explosion of force’ that is taught to officers.

Mr Baillon explained: “The reason I left was because of the treatment I received from senior officers. There's a culture in the police of joking. I fully accept that. That was never a problem.

“My wife suffered a miscarriage. It was shortly after the video was leaked, and I hold the stress that was there at the time for her losing our baby. Somebody wrote something on my locker which was personal to us. They fully knew the impact of what they were writing on my locker and the effect.

“It was something that I found highly personal and that I found highly offensive and insensitive and the organisation did nothing about that.”

Anser Amin of Walker Prestons Solicitors explains: “this case is a perfect example of the fact that we, fortunately, live in a society that upholds its legal responsibilities and does not bow to media pressure. If you have been personally or financially affected by somebody else’s actions then you may be entitled to compensation. Even if you do not morally believe in the result of this case, it was legally sound and the court’s legal responsibility has been upheld”.

The pensioner involved in the incident was also awarded £65,000 in compensation from the police force despite refusing to pull over whilst being pursued by the police for 17 minutes for speeding and driving without a seatbelt.

The compensation package that was awarded to Mr Baillon was decided upon to cover loss of earnings and a loss of pension.

Monday, 3 February 2014

What are clients’ favourite flavour of crisps?

CrispsFrom the Solicitors Journal 21/01/14:

Legal Choices, the legal regulators' consumer-friendly website, went live [recently] with a variety of polls and quizzes, including one which asked consumers about their favourite crisp flavour.

The suggested answers are: ready salted, cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, carrot and coriander, or, […] bizarrely, 'hedgehog'.

Another quiz, […] tests consumers' knowledge of the jargon they might come across in the legal world.

A question on the phrase 'actus reus' gives, as an example of where people might see it: 'The actus reus of theft is horrible for the victim.' [Another example included use of the Latin term ‘inter se’.]

Another question, on the word 'notwithstanding', suggests consumers may come across it in a conversation about the weather, presumably with their lawyers: 'Notwithstanding the terrible weather, the holiday was great'.

Oh, please. “Notwithstanding” is a regular word in the English language. It’s not a legal term of art. And most clients consumers of legal services, don’t need to be mollycoddled. They need sound advice, pitched at a suitable level and tailored to their needs. That’s not the same as patronising clients and, as a matter of course, purposefully dumbing-down lawyer-client interactions to the point of absurdity. With the advent and widespread adoption of a little thing called the internet, clients are more knowledgeable and empowered than ever before. They’re also more likely to ask if they’re unsure of anything. Let’s stop treating them like toddlers in a nursery.

The website,, is a collaboration between the SRA, Bar Standards Board, ILEX Professional Standards and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers.

The SRA said, at the time it was announced last autumn, that its aim was to "signpost people to information and support provided by different legal regulators and aim to help people with the choices and decisions they are faced with before, during, or after using a legal service."

Quite how asking people their favourite flavour of crisp fits in with that, I’ve no idea. No, honestly – I’ve no idea.

Perhaps we should be asking ourselves exactly how we’ve ended up in this state? What happened to the days when clients put on their Sunday best to visit their solicitor, who would cordially greet them with a warm handshake across a leather bound desk, in an office that smelt of Turkish tobacco and musty legal volumes?

I’ve not even experienced that, but I still feel like I’ve missed out.

I guess those were the days when clients were clients and not consumers of legal services.