Monday, 31 March 2014

Slippery slope for Bristol law students

Bristol Watrer SlideThe University of Bristol’s law school is housed in the Wills Memorial Building which is the large castle-like building at the top of the hill in the picture.  Put another way, it’s perfectly positioned for students to sprint out of lectures and slalom their way down a water slide once lectures are over for the day.

Why couldn’t studying law be more like that when I was a student, eh?  Eye rolling smile

When the slide is set up for a day (yes, that’s all!) in the summer, let’s hope the road is properly closed to traffic.  I don’t want to hear of law students studying tort having their studies bolstered by first hand experiences of negligence claims!  Lucky that the Bristol Royal Infirmary is just down the road.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Maternity Employment Rights

Guest Post

Maternity Employment RightsIt’s not uncommon for a new mother to take up to several months off work after childbirth. However, prior to even considering this leave, it’s important to know the law and your legal rights as a working mother.

Maternity leave rights
Maternity leave rights play an imperative part in employment law and whilst the basics of such leave may seem simple, the likes of redundancy and the nature of employment can make the entire situation a little more complex.

If you’re unsure of anything or feel you’re being treated unfairly, it’s wise to seek a solicitor’s opinion.

Statutory maternity leave
Eligible employees are entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. The first 26 weeks are classed as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ whilst the last 26 weeks are often regarded as ‘Additional Maternity Leave’.

Your eligibility may depend on a number of things, including how long you’ve worked for the specific company as well as previous work.

11 weeks before the expected due date of your baby is the earliest you can take your leave. Employees must take at least 2 weeks off from work after childbirth by law. This increases to 4 weeks for those who work in a factory environment.

Statutory maternity pay
Eligible employers can be paid for up to 39 weeks of leave. In the first six weeks, they will receive up to 90% of their average weekly earnings before tax. In the latter 33 weeks, this will equate to a sum of around £138.78.

Extra leave or pay
Those who work for a company that offers a maternity scheme may be entitled to extra leave or pay. The company in question must certify that their maternity leave policies are easy to understand and also, easily accessible to staff.

What to do if the baby is born early?
Leave begins the day after the birth; this rule applies even if the baby is born early. The employee must inform their employer of this exact date. You will then receive a written letter confirming the new date of leave.

Employment rights
During maternity leave, all of the employee’s employment rights are fully protected. These include holidays and returning to a job.

What you must do before maternity leave
By law, employees must have an employment contract in place in order to qualify for statutory maternity leave. They must also give the employer adequate notice.

It’s essential that they have worked in the company for at least 26 weeks up to the qualifying week (the 15th week before childbirth). Another factor to consider is earnings; those wishing to take paid maternity leave must earn a sum of £109 per week in an 8-week applicable period.

Proof of pregnancy
Prior to embarking on your leave, you must attain proof of your pregnancy. This will often consist of a doctor’s note or alternatively, a MATB1 certificate. Such proof is usually released 20 weeks prior to childbirth.

Without this proof, the employer isn’t required to pay statutory maternity pay.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Drunk woman nearly killed stone dead

(As distinct from being killed stone alive.)

Bus stop road accidentFrom BBC News 20/03/14:

A Londonderry woman, who was captured on camera being left in a bus lay-by by two police officers while incapacitated, has called for the officers to be sacked.

Bridget Mongan, 23, admits being drunk at the time, but said the officers should have left her on the pavement.

"My boyfriend was arrested and I got a bit upset," said Ms Mongan.

"I could have been killed stone dead.

Because being killed can result in you being left in some other condition, of course. Ahem.

"I don't remember how I ended up lying on the road. I don't remember a whole lot," she added.

That stands to reason, I guess.

Assuming the officers did in fact leave Mongan floundering around in a drunken stupor at a bus stop, I’m surprised they’d be willing to take the risk. As well as potentially committing an offence under the Irish equivalent of the Road Traffic Act by causing danger to other road users, it’s also very likely that the officers would be exposing themselves (and their employers) to civil liability through claims for negligence.

Handcuffing her to a lamppost while she ‘slept it off’ would have been a much safer bet.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Australian Grand Prix organisers considering possible claim for breach of contract

When I first heard an audio clip of the new Mercedes F1 powertrain running last summer, I knew trouble was coming. This year’s pre-season testing only reinforced that for me.

Now that the first race of the season in Australia is behind us, there can be no doubt.
F1, as we knew it, is dead.

For me, F1 is synonymous with the scream of a V10 engine which the sport adopted between the years of 1995 - 2005.  As a result, I wasn't particularly pleased when the regulations were changed for the 2006 season which saw a switch to V8 powerplants. But this year’s move to V6s has changed the sound beyond all recognition.

The visceral scream of an F1 engine in full anger is such a fundamental part of the atmosphere and identity of F1, taking it away is unthinkable.

But that's exactly what happened. The new engines have reduced the sound of the sport to something resembling an electric go kart formula. It's beyond disappointing; it's heart-breaking.

In the wake of the first farcical Grand Prix of the season, the media is now awash with news that organisers of the Australian Grand Prix are considering the possibility of bringing a claim for breach of contract against the commercial rights holder of F1 which arranges Grands Prix with the different race venues around the world.


Here’s what ESPN have to say:

Australian Grand Prix organisers claim their contract may have been breached because the Formula One cars were not loud enough.

Andrew Westacott, Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) chief executive, said after the race that the rule changes had impacted on the "sexiness" of the event and as a result fans did not get what they paid for.

I'll second that.

AGPC chairman Ron Walker has contacted Bernie Ecclestone and made it clear organisers are unhappy.

"One aspect of it was just a little bit duller than it's ever been before and that's part of the mix and the chemistry that they're going to have to get right," Westacott said. "Ron spoke to [Ecclestone] after the race and said the fans don't like it in the venue.

That's putting it mildly.

"We pay for a product, we've got contracts in place, we are looking at those very, very seriously because we reckon there has probably been some breaches."

Without knowing the content of the contract, it's impossible to say whether the Auz Grand Prix organisers may have a claim. Even if they do, it's far more likely to be settled quickly, with the assurance of some measures being taken to beef up the sound and the high-octane atmosphere for future years.

A thought struck me earlier. Why can't the FIA liaise with the 3 engine manufacturers currently in F1 (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault) to essentially licence the powertrain technology to other motorsport series throughout the world? Heck, maybe there's even a place for a dumbed-down version of it in road cars - even at this stage. That way, F1 could rid itself of this millstone, allow the manufacturers to recoup some of the massive investment they've had to plough in to develop this technology and, crucially, allow the FIA to save face.

Westacott, who listed among his gripes the fact he did not need earplugs even in the pit lane, warned that European spectators were even more likely to be unhappy with the much quieter spectacle.

"Previously, it shakes the bones," he said. "I'd be confident we'll have a different sound next year."

I hope he's right.

I really don't think the passage of time is going to help F1 fans adjust to the new noise.  Something’s got to give.

Monday, 17 March 2014

What Should the Public Know About the Jackson Reforms?

Have you heard of the Jackson Reforms? Although these reforms make a number of important changes to the way civil litigation occurs in the UK, most members of the public have never heard of them. Our own informal surveys have found that very few people are aware of the important changes these reforms make to the law.

If we posed the same question to a crowd of lawyers, we would likely receive a very different answer. Although the general public is largely unaware of the reforms, the legal community has made a number of changes in response to them.

Most lawyers will be able to confidently state that the reforms were implemented in April 2013 as the result of a one-year in-depth review into the costs of civil litigation that become a core tenet of the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act.

The 2012 act has resulted in serious changes to Civil Procedure Rules, with a major effect on the cost of civil litigation in the UK. The rules, which are difficult for many in the legal community to understand – are designed to reduce the cost of litigation.

As many people in the legal community, ranging from solicitors and barristers to a large number of judges, have struggled to understand the laws, it’s not surprising that such as large portion of the general public is also unaware of them.

The Jackson Reforms are important, and understanding them is worthwhile. The reforms have some significant effects on the cost of civil litigation in the UK, and understanding them is an important priority for those interested in the law.

Several areas of the law are affected by the reforms. These include:

  • Public Liability Claims
  • Employers’ Liability
  • Personal Injury (PI)
  • Road Traffic Accidents (RTA)

The key goal of the Jackson Reforms is to reduce the cost of litigation by simplifying and streamlining the process, as well as establishing clearer regulations. This results in benefits for clients in the form of reduced litigation costs and the simplification of the litigation process as a whole.

A key change introduced by the reforms is the prevention of lawyers collecting fees based on success for defendants that lose their cases. Lawyers also cannot collect premiums from after-the-event insurance (ATE) from losing defendants. Instead, lawyers are paid using contingency fees; these fees are a replacement for damage-based awards and CFAs.

Changes have also been made to the scale of success fees for personal injury court cases. Lawyers can now charge a maximum of 25 per cent of the total damages as a success fee, reducing the amount charged to clients. There is also a £50,000 cap on claims from road traffic accidents.

As well as capping the cost of success fees and claims for certain cases, the Jackson Reforms also provide more detailed and stringent rules regarding budgeting. Case budgets now need to be prepared in advance of a case and approved by the court at several stages in the process. This is to make budgets more appropriate to the case and further reduce the cost of litigation.

The Jackson Reforms are interesting not only for their content, but for the time at which they were implemented. The reforms were introduced alongside a serious reduction in the availability of government legal aid. The reforms, of course, have made alternative means of case funding more accessible for many litigants.

Prior to the reforms, there had been significantly less clarity regarding the approval of the courts for litigants to use third party funding. The reforms show that Jackson approves of third-party funding, giving funders a new level of access.

Since many of the claims made by successful litigants are quite large, paying a small percentage of the winnings to third party funders is an expense that many litigants are very willing to make. This is especially true when one considers the alternatives for these litigants; without funding, many would have to drop their claims.

The Jackson Reforms remain fairly new to the legal world, and many solicitors are still receiving education explaining their effects and outlining how best to comply with the new rules. As we watch the reforms evolve over the next few years, we will see their long-term effects for litigants, lawyers and the general public.

This article was written on behalf of Vannin Capital. Visit their website to learn more

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Annoying office habits (including those of lawyers)

Annoying LawyerTV Channel, Dave, recently commissioned research into office workers’ most irksome habits.

Here are some of my favourites (with their catchy names):

Social Notworking – playing around on Facebook and Twitter to avoid doing work.

Déjà Brew – offering to make someone a cup of tea when you know for a fact they’ve just had one in the hope they will decline. 
Lawyers tend to be very guilty of this in my opinion.

Drainstorm – a poorly organised workshop, where everyone leaves feeling deflated.  Doesn’t that describe virtually every office meeting?

Procaffeinating – making coffee or tea to delay getting on with real work.

Tupperwarfare – fighting for space in the office fridge. 
Given the state of most workplace fridges, this ventures dangerously close to germ warfare!

Human Desourcing – sacking people. 
Hah fricking hah.

Jambivalence – ignoring a printer blockage in the hope that someone else will fix it.  Isn’t that what IT are there for?

Google Naps – using Google to work out what time colleagues in the US will be sleeping, to avoid them replying to emails.

Stock Home Syndrome – pinching stuff from the office.
Nicking paper doesn’t count of course!

Shout-of-office – Someone who wants every single person in the building to know they are off on holiday.
All those guilty of this should be shot on sight!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Should I use a claims management company to make a PPI claim?

PPI ClaimNo. No you shouldn’t. It’s as simple as that.

PPI claims companies add no value whatsoever and the sooner they’re hunted to extinction, the better.

Making a PPI claim is incredibly simple and any layperson who can fill in a simple form can do it themselves. And making a claim for PPI mis-selling yourself means you won’t have to pay out up to 25% of any compensation you’re awarded – unlike the situation with claims management companies.

Thankfully, banks are spelling this out for potential claimants now.

For instance, RBS letters say the following:

Should you wish to complain we would urge you to complain directly to us, rather than using a Claims Management Company ('CMC') which may charge you up to 25% of any possible refund as a fee. We treat all complaints received directly from customers in exactly the same way as one from a CMC.

I guess that’s progress.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Solicitors and continuing professional development

CPD Solicitors The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have recently published a consultation seeking stakeholder views on reforming the continuing professional development (CPD) obligations on solicitors.

You can have a butchers at the consultation entitled “Training For Tomorrow: A new approach to continuing competence” here.

Given the ever changing landscape in which solicitors practise, the SRA feel that the rules on CPD are in need of a refresh.

As the SRA put it:

There can be no doubt therefore that continuing professional development […] is a necessary and important requirement for individuals and entities if they are to deliver competent legal services and meet their regulatory obligations.

The SRA highlight that CPD is currently viewed as a necessary evil to which lawyers pay lip service (let’s face it – they’d much rather be fee earning or playing golf / shopping for shoes – delete as appropriate). They’re probably right about that.

To try and make CPD more meaningful and relevant to individual solicitors, the SRA pondered, albeit briefly, whether making the rules more prescriptive would do the trick.

But no: less is more in the new trendy world of outcomes-focussed regulation.  The SRA decided to reject greater prescription for 3 reasons:

1. The wildly diverse needs of CPD between practitioners and areas of practice;

2. The fact that practitioners at different stages of their careers need different amounts of CPD; and

3. For reasons of buck-shifting. The SRA wants the firm entity for which the solicitor works to be responsible for managing CPD.

Maintaining the SRA’s apparent love of the number 3, they set out, yep, 3 options for possible reform:

Option 1 - a shift from procedural compliance to competence.
There would be no mandatory minimum number of hours that must be spent on CPD, or the type of CPD that must be undertaken. It is up to individuals and firms to decide what CPD needs to be undertaken to meet their regulatory obligations set out in the Code of Conduct. The emphasis is on self-reflection and all that jazz. This is the SRA’s favoured option.

Option 2 - regulations requiring solicitors to plan and reflect on their development.
Like option 1, there would be no mandatory minimum number of hours that must be devoted to CPD. Instead, solicitors would be required to reflect on their practice, identify their training needs and plan, implement and evaluate their training on an annual basis. The SRA would take a prescriptive approach in how CPD is planned, recorded and reflected on, specifying the format of a log that must be kept.

Option 3 - retain a minimum hours scheme with some modifications. 
This would involve retaining a mandatory CPD scheme for solicitors which prescribes a minimum number of hours of CPD that must be completed each year. The CPD would have to relate to the individual's current or anticipated area of practice, while allowing a wider range of activities to count as valid CPD.

The consultation window closes on 2 April 2014.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Flood damage – what can I do?

Flooded HomeThe UK is slowly emerging from its wettest winter since records began. Many people have had their homes and lives ruined by flood the unprecedented flood waters.

Damage from flooding can be devastating, with the financial loss representing just a fraction of the misery and heartache that victims suffer.

So what are your options if the worst happens and your property floods? More proactively, what can you do to minimise the risk and impact in advance?

What should I do if my property is affected by flooding?
Homeowners are responsible for any repairs that are necessary as a result of flooding. You are also responsible for replacing any belongings that have been damaged as a result.

Following flood damage, you should contact your insurer as soon as possible. All insurance companies keep records of customers, so losing your insurance policy documents in the flood should not prevent you from making a claim. If it's possible, taking photos of the damage (property and belongs) is a very good idea. Contemporary evidence tends to prove invaluable when making an insurance claim.

Your insurer should take care of any repairs that are necessary, as well as making arrangements to replace your damaged belongings. Keeping records of conversations, quotes and the work done by the party making repairs is always a smart move.

If your property is too badly damaged for you to remain there while repairs are made, your insurance company should relocate you to alternative local accommodation (such as B&B or a hotel), although this is dependent on the terms of your insurance policy.

I rent my own property from a private landlord. What are my rights?
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 ("the Act") states that it is the landlord who is responsible for most repairs.

Under the Act your landlord must:

  • Keep the property’s structure and exterior in a good state of repair. This is the case even if the property was in a poor state of repair when the tenancy started.
  • Repair the property when damage has been properly reported.
  • Make sure that the property’s supply of gas, electricity and water is maintained.

Aside from the statutory protection, your tenancy agreement may also include other obligations of maintenance and/or repair that your landlord must comply with. Check your tenancy agreement carefully and take legal advice if in doubt. If your landlord fails to carry out their obligations you may be able to bring legal action against them for breach of contract.

I am a Council or Housing Association tenant. What rights do I have?
Local authorities and housing associations (private registered provider of social housing ("PRPSH") or registered social landlord ("RSL")) have a legal duty to repair damage and disrepair in your property. Section 11 of the Act, discussed in outline above, also applies to PRPSH / RSL.

It is dangerous to remain in my property. What can I do?
Guidance on potential health and safety hazards for tenants is available. The 'Housing Health and Safety Rating System - Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professional' sets out what is classed as a hazard. You can view this information here.

If you believe remaining in your property represents a hazard but your housing provider will not move you to alternative accommodation, you should contact your local environmental health department. They, with the help of the guidance, will determine if they need to take enforcement action against your landlord.

In the case of Council and Housing Association tenants, your housing provider should provide you with suitable alternative accommodation if you are unable to remain in your property whilst repairs are being carried out.

There is no such right for private tenants. If you have to leave because you cannot safely remain in the property, you should ask your landlord to terminate the tenancy agreement or to suspend the rent on until you can move back in.

If you are forced to leave your property and you have nowhere else to stay, you may be able to make a 'homelessness application' to your Local Authority. If you are considered to be in serious need, you should qualify for suitable accommodation until you can go back to your own property.

In addition, you may be entitled to claim a crisis loan. Crisis loans are interest-free loans from the Department of Work and Pensions (offered on a discretionary basis) and intended to help with expenses in emergency situations. For flood victims, crisis loans can be used as advances on rent for alternative accommodation or for everyday necessitates such as clothing and toiletries.

Crisis loan applications can be lodged, and in urgent circumstances approved, over the phone.

Good preparation can make all the difference when flood waters start to rise. Here are some points to bear in mind.

It is highly advisable to have appropriate insurance on your property and the contents. Make sure you read your policy carefully! If in doubt, seek legal advice as to the policy's suitability for your circumstances. Sometimes the policy small print excludes certain types of claim. For instance, if you live within a certain distance of a river or flood plain your policy may not cover you for flood damage. Keep your insurance policy documents in a safe place, preferably in a waterproof folder. It's also a good idea to have copy securely backed-up online.

Take steps to protect your home
There are numerous practical steps you can take to help protect your home from flooding. The Environment Agency ("EA") website features a ‘flood plan kit’ which you can download. Tips include ensuring your gas and electricity supply is safely turned off and thinking in advance how you can best save as many possessions as possible (such as taking items upstairs or safely stacking smaller pieces of furniture on larger ones). Ensuring you have a safe means of escape should the flood waters rise is vital, too.

Stay Informed: get to know the flood warnings
The EA might issue one of three different warnings when an area may be affected by flooding:

1. Flood alert. This is the lowest grade of warning and means that flooding is possible and residents should be prepared.

2. Flood warning. The intermediate grade. Flooding is expected and immediate action by residents is required.

3. Severe flood warning. This is the most serious grade and means that severe flooding is expected and there may be a danger to life.

Sign-up for flood warnings
If you sign up to the free Floodline Warnings Direct, you can be sent a direct message when flooding is expected which may affect your property.

Social media may also prove invaluable in staying up to date with flood warnings for your area (assuming it is safe to either use your smartphone or some other appropriate communications device).

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Why hello there, lovely legal readers

You’re all looking radiant and delightful today.

Apparently, it’s World Compliment Day, so thought I’d embrace it.  Be right back

World Compliment Day