Recent Law Articles
Kenny is only twenty. After two years looking he has managed to get a job. He works 60 hours a week in a bar. They are keeping him on and he is getting a raise. In an economy where kids just can’t find work he is someone who deserves all the support we can give, yet when I see him as Duty Solicitor he is in rent arrears and risks losing his home.
It turns out that when he finally got the job he took a small pay day loan to celebrate and thank his parents for supporting him. Then, when he had to repay the loan, which had an apr of 200% he had no money left from his wages, and had to take another loan. Soon all his money was going to shady companies whose dodgy representatives door-stepped him and even his parents. He looks haunted.
Kevin is a pensioner, living with his adult son. Because his son works in a shop and earns reasonable wages Kevin gets little in Housing Benefit – the son is expected to contribute the rest in a part of the regulations known as a non dependant deduction.
Yet Kenny is in rent arrears that climb steadily. He too may be evicted. His son too has taken out pay day loans, and finds his income being hoovered up by the lender. The son is terrified of taking time off work to get debt advice in case he is fired. In any event the queues at the local CAB are round the block.
Kyle is a postman separated from the mother of his six year old daughter. Over the summer his kid started to visit more regularly and he took out a small pay day loan so he could give her a few treats. It looks to me as if he is trying to make sure his relationship with his daughter does not suffer because of differences with her mother, he’s trying to do the right thing as a responsible dad.
You guessed it. He’s in rent arrears too.
Perhaps 1/50 or 1/60 of the clients that I now see as a duty solicitor are in thrall to brutal lending companies which may be called Wronger, or Conga or what have you. These are working class people in social housing with modest salaries who literally can’t put food on their table because of punitive rates of interest on pay day loans. These are far more deadly than crack; a small taster is enough to hook you for life.
Back in Law School they taught us that there were rules about usury, and the legislation then in place was enough to crack down on most of the unlicensed loan sharks that we saw in the 60’s and 70’s. Today, if you look around your high street, you will see that pay day loan companies are a growth industry, popping up like barnacles alongside betting shops- that other modern mecca to despair. They will tell you that what they are doing is selling services specifically designed for very short periods- yet perhaps half of their income comes from repeat borrowers.
Far from being curbed by the existing legal machinery, we see that Newcastle football club has looked at putting a pay day loan company on their shirts. The dodgy criminal with a cosh in his pocket of old has undergone an alchemical change, and acquired a glossy corporate face and sugared words that hide pure poison.
Standing up in court I tell the District Judge the plain facts. How wages meant for rent and other essentials evaporate the moment they arrive. In every case we get an adjournment so that the tenant can get debt advice.
Yet if I have managed to achieve something today, tomorrow paints a bleaker picture.
Firstly, although Legal Aid presently funds debt advice, from April 2013 this will be so scarce as to be non- existent. For every 100 housing cases funded by Legal Aid, the government is awarding 4 debt cases. We will be hamstrung before we even start.
Secondly, alternative sources of credit for people on benefits or low incomes will become almost non-existent. The Government Social Fund which used to provide cheap loans and grants will soon disappear, and Credit Unions are shutting up shop all over the country.
While the Bank of England’s interest rates are as low as at any time since its foundation, corporate sharks are trawling the economy, and we see no sign that Government is prepared to use any of the levers available to it to stop this from happening.
As a child I was raised a Catholic, and I remember well the story of Jesus scourging the money lenders from the temple for the sin of usury. If I had been raised a Moslem the concept of any interest rate would have been anathema- far more so these new vampire squids that feed and feed and make corporate merchant bankers models of restraint and probity by comparison.
The truth is that anyone with a moral compass will recognise these greedy pay day loan companies as deeply wrong. Why can’t we do something to stop them.
Commenting on today’s publication by the Government of a draft Bill on prisoner voting, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP sent out this statement.
We thought it may merit a discussion.
“Labour’s policy is, and always has been, that prisoners shouldn’t be given the vote. Committing a crime so serious that a judge has deprived you of your liberty means you should also lose the ability to vote in elections. We opposed the Tory-led Government’s previous plans to give all prisoners serving less than four years a vote because many serious and violent criminals would have been allowed to take part in elections.
“But we’re also mindful of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the way it has protected human rights across Europe for over six decades. However, the Government wasted the chance to reform the Court during its recent Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. It failed to secure changes that would have led to the Court respecting the unique circumstances of each individual member country, and would have prevented the Court adjudicating on domestic social policy such as this.
“It is important that elected MPs have their say and that there is proper pre-legislative scrutiny of any Government proposals and so we will examine the details of the draft Bill published today. In order for MPs to come to a fully informed decision about prisoner voting, the Government should make public its legal advice so that all MPs are clear what the Court judgement actually wants us to do and what are the consequences of any actions we may take.”
Feminist groups are organising pro-choice protests demanding a change in Irish abortion law following the death of Savita Halappanavar who died of septecimia after being denied an abortion that could have saved her life.
Although Doctors assessed that 17-week pregnant Savita was miscarrying, they were unable to remove the foetus for three days due to the presence of a heartbeat. Abortion is legal in Ireland if the mothers’ life is at risk due ruling in 2010 from the European Court of Human Rights. However, the Irish Government has so far failed to implement any legislation to reflect the court’s ruling.
The ordeal left Savita in agonising pain, and opened her cervix up to infection. When she and her husband begged doctors to terminate the pregnancy they were told “this is a Catholic country”. Although Savita eventually had the foetus removed from her womb, it was too late and she died from infection a few days later.
The Pro-choice Campaign (Ireland) is organising a protest in Savita’s name outside the Dail at 6pm this evening, demanding that the Government cease in delaying a change to the law. The group released a statement on their facebook page accusing the Irish government of being “content to kick the problem down the road or pretend it doesn’t exist.”
“We will no longer tolerate their delaying tactics. Women’s lives are in danger until we have this legislation.”
British feminists are also planning a protest in solidarity outside the Irish Embassy in London at 6pm.
“@jimrmanning: Just over 3,000 £145 TV licence payments will go to George Entwistle as a golden goodbye.”>> disproportionate for 50odd days.
— Max Wind-Cowie (@MaxWindCowie) November 11, 2012
The BBC’s Director General has resigned after only 54 days in post. Now there is concern that his £450,000 ‘Golden Handshake’ is disproportionate.
Complaints at these payouts comes from both the Right and the Left, depending on the recipient. The outrage is usually met with calls for the institution in question to take measures to recover the money somehow.
I have never had much sympathy with such demands, which seek to shut the door after the horse has bolted. We live by the rule of law in this country, and contracts must be adhered to. Top executives tend to be quite adept at securing the right assurances and insurances in their contracts, should they be asked to leave early.
The time to be outraged about Golden Handshakes is before the contract is signed. Whenever a high profile appointment is made at a Ministry or Quango, conscientious citizens and civic minded members of the Fourth Estate should scrutinise the terms of the contract.
In particular, they should ask “what is the potential payout if this person is forced to resign due to mismanagement?” and “what is the payout if this person resigns after only 50 days in post?”
A routine public spotlight at this stage would serve to inhibit egregious terms in such contracts. It may also serve to explain the circumstances where a large payout would be appropriate.
As luck would have it, we’ll have the perfect opportunity to do this soon, when a new BBC Director General is appointed.
Here’s something that really hasn’t been stressed enough: as deserved as the worldwide outcry was against the 2-year jail sentences for three members of Pussy Riot, that’s nothing compared to the 4-year stretches handed down to two young men in another authoritarian nation – namely our own.
These two men didn’t supposedly offend Orthodox sensibilities by performing their anti-Putin song in a church; all they did was set up pages on Facebook for events that didn’t take place. This was enough for the judge to describe what they did as an “evil act”.
Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan will now be over a quarter of the way through their sentences, and will hopefully be released before too much longer. As acts of stupidity go, theirs was fairly spectacular: setting up pages on Facebook advertising meeting places for riots during the hysteria of last year clearly was asking for trouble.
Nonetheless, no one turned up at either, and in Sutcliffe-Keenan’s case he always maintained it had been a joke that had badly backfired. For the two to be sentenced to terms far in excess of what others who actually took part in the riots received was an overreaction of quite staggering proportions. That their appeal against the length of their sentences was also rejected is a stain on the justice system.
Yet this week has seen two more such cases prosecuted, neither of which should have ever reached a court. Azhar Ahmed was more fortunate than Matthew Woods, although not by much. Earlier in the year Ahmed was moved in the aftermath of the deaths of four servicemen in Afghanistan to post an angry Facebook status update in which he said that “all soldiers should die and go to hell”.
Ahmed did not say that soldiers should be killed; and as the court presumably accepted, Ahmed afterwards apologised to those who responded to his update, saying that he hadn’t meant for anyone to be upset by it.
Despite all of this, Ahmed was convicted of sending a “grossly offensive” message, and was told by district judge Jane Goodwin that he had gone beyond the bounds of freedom of speech. He was ordered to perform 240 hours of community service over two years; by comparison, the TV presenter Justin Lee Collins was ordered this week to perform 140 hours of community service after he was found guilty of a prolonged campaign of harassment against his ex-girlfriend.
Undoubtedly worthy of less sympathy is Matthew Woods. Woods pleaded guilty earlier this week to sending a grossly offensive message after he was arrested “for his own safety”. Woods’ crime was to post jokes on his Facebook page about both April Jones and Madeleine McCann, one of which was described by magistrate Bill Hudson as “abhorrent”. This seems to be a reference to Woods’ show-stopping gag:
What’s the difference between Mark Bridger and Santa Claus? Mark Bridger comes in April.
If delivered on a stage, it would have been worthy of boos. Posted online during a search for a child, with all the emotions surrounding such a disappearance, Hudson decided it was worthy of three months in prison.
Only Woods’ early guilty plea prevented it from being for the full six months available under the law. Earlier the same day the court fined a man £100 and ordered him to pay £100 in compensation after he called a woman who had pulled up alongside him in her car a “fucking black cunt”.
No amount of seminars between Keir Starmer, lawyers and the social networks are going to make a difference when the law was drafted at a time when the closest thing to Facebook and Twitter were Friendster and Friends Reunited. It’s also ridiculous that the onus should be placed on the social networks themselves to police what is and isn’t “grossly offensive” or “menacing” when it should be down to users to not outrage themselves.
Judges now seem to believe that prison sentences are an appropriate punishment for saying or writing things that clearly do not incite hatred of any variety but which do hurt feelings is a sad indictment of what a petty, pathetic bunch many of us appear to have become.
The Government will be scaling back harassment protection in the workplace in a move women’s rights groups have said could “turn back time.”
In a bid to cut ‘red-tape’, employers will no longer be obliged to take steps to protect employees from harassment from third parties-such as customers. Under current legislation, reasonable steps are expected to be taken if an employee is repeatedly harassed in the work place.
The plans come during a week dominated by discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace- Janet Street-Porter, DJ Liz Kershaw and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig have all come forward with accounts of harassment and sexual assault whilst working for the BBC.
A 2012 survey of 3,400 women found that half of women had experienced ‘gendered harassment’ in the workplace.
Speaking to Liberal Conspiracy, Preethi Sundaram, Policy and Campaigns Manager for The Fawcett Society said “At a time when women’s workplace rights are already precarious, we cannot afford any risk of regression.”
“Employment regulation and protections against discrimination have been key drivers in giving women greater access to work and an independent income over the years – to put this on the bonfire would be to turn back time.”
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will also scrap what the Government is calling “needless beauracracy and out-of-date rules,” including a complete overhaul of the employment tribunal system.
Business Minister Jo Swinson said “clearing away barriers to help businesses grow and invest is an essential part of the Government’s plan for growth.”
“The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will help strengthen the business environment and boost confidence.”
In exchange for shares between £2000 and £50,000 employees may be asked to sacrifice their rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy, the right to request flexible working and time off for training and they will be required provide double the notice of a firm date of return from maternity leave.
Firms opting into the new form of contract, called ‘owner-employee’, will not be required to offer any other kinds of contract when taking on new hires. This could mean that workers will have to sacrifice their rights in order to find employment. Existing workers may be offered the new contracts, but will not be obliged to partake.
Any gains on the shares will be exempt for Capital Gains Tax. When an employee is dismissed, the company will buy the shares back at ‘a reasonable price.’
The Treasury claims that the contracts are intended to stimulate growth for small and medium sized businesses by creating a ‘flexible work force’, but companies of any size will be able to use them.
Legislation to bring in the owner-employee contracts will come later this year, with companies able to use them from April 2013. Details will be consulted on late in the month.
Mr Boyle’s Olympic kick-off was bloody amazing. I was cynical about the whole scenario, but it was one of the actual best things ever. Celebrating the things that make the UK worthy of having, not the Michael Gove crap. Culturally, beautifully excellent.
The Olympics, being sponsored by people with money, are sponsored by a wide variety of organisations who do terrible things. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola do, well, come on, you’re human and capable of reading. Visa have barred people with Mastercards from using their cards in the vicinity of the arena. This shit is disgraceful.
And so it ends, not with a whimper but a bang.
In a perfect coincidence, the Crown Prosecution Service announced its decision to charge some of those arrested over alleged phone hacking on the same day as the Leveson inquiry’s last public hearings.
For those like me who were sceptical of the inquiry to begin with, wondering whether it would be turned into a circus by the celebrity witnesses, it’s more than safe to say that we were wrong to be.
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contribution by Will Fitzgibbon
The legal industry went into Twitter palpitations of excitement last Thursday as the government named the new President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the nation’s highest-ranking judge.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, 64, will replace Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, 74, who retires on September 30.
Yet while legal and political communities welcomed the appointment of the respected and experienced Lord Neuberger, the elevation of another male Oxbridge graduate has again brought the gender diversity of the UK’s judiciary into the spotlight.
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