Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Law Society Gazette - Tells it like it is !

The Law Society Gazette is an estimable publication.  A copy arrives each week at home and I like the paper copy because it is easier for me to highlight points of particular interest.  The publication, which dates from 1903, can now be obtained electronically on your iphone or Android ipad.   This week's Gazette (3rd February) was a depressing but very informative experience to read.  Here is a down to earth factual publication in which lawyers and others "tell it like it is".

We start with Very High Cost Criminal Cases (VHCCs) being jeopardised by fee cuts.  I cannot imagine a surgeon performing a complex operation without appropriate remuneration but here we see that multi-million pound fraud trials are being put at risk by the Ministry of Justice's cuts to advocates fees. Next, John Hyde notes that the government is reviewing legal regulation and expects to make an announcement later this year.  The outgoing Chief Executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (Mr Antony Townsend) urges the government to resist another immediate overhaul of the system.

Joshua Rozenberg offers an excellent article about compensation for miscarriage of justice.  An amendment - moved by Lord Pannick QC - to the Antisocial Behaviour Bill would allow compensation only if a new or newly discovered fact shows that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it.   The amendment to Clause 161 is here.

The Letters page talks of "Court Chaos" where Matthew Coxall writes about the contracting out of serviecs such as interpretation.  He writes from his own experiences in the Magistrates' Courts and points out that with the possible "outsourcing" of the probation service to organisations that clearly cannot presently carry out their duties, let alone take on the duties of the probation service, it is no wonder that those who work in the legal system are becoming increasingly frustrated.  Another letter, by David Kirwan, points out that public funding cuts are making justice the province of the seriously wealthy.

A further letter comments about the length of trials in the Crown Court and compares them - unfavourably - with the rapid progress from charge to appeal in the 1950s in the old Assize Courts.  The letter does not name the defendant but it appears to be John Francis Spriggs who pleaded diminished responsibility.  This defence had just been introduced into English law by the Homicide Act 1957.  Spriggs lost his appeal in January 1958 but he was reprieved.

Attention should be drawn to three very good articles:

Rectification and interpretation (Lesley King) - considers the Supreme Court's decision in Marley v Rawlings [2014] UKSC 2 where Mr and Mrs Rawlings had signed wills in identical terms but, due to an error by the solicitor, each had actually signed the will intended for the other!  Mrs R died first and everything passed to Mr R by survivorship BUT, when Mr R died, was he to be treated as having died intestate?  The Supreme Court held NO.

For practitioners, the articles under the heading BENCHMARKS are always invaluable.  This week, District Judge Hickman looked at the decision in Mitchell v News Group [2013] EWCA Civ 1526 - (previous post).

Finally, in Closing the Expectation Gap, Saara Idelbi (7 Bedford Row) looks at the Duggan Inquest - (previous post) - and argues that the inquest would have benefited from greater transparency in the decision-making.  The lack of an APPEAL process from Coroners Courts is something which Parliament ought to address.  It is certainly remarkable that there is no appeal procedure from the decision of an inferior court.  At the moment, there are two avenues to challenge the decision of a Coroners Court.  One is by application under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988.  Them other is by way of judicial review.  This is a process concerned with the quality and reliability of the court process and is not designed to delve into the merits of the decision-making.  Getting a matter to judicial review has been made more difficult by reforms introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2013.  An appeals procedure was included in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 section 40 but the government decided not to implement it and repealed section 40 when the Public Bodies Act 2011 was enacted.

Over 110 years of providing information to the legal profession is a superb achievement.  Long live the Law Society Gazette.

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