At a keynote speech to the Police Federation’s annual conference- amidst other matters raised- the Home Secretary announced new proposed sentencing guidelines that a mandatory life sentence should be imposed for people who killed police officers in the line of duty.
Stating that killing a police officer was “to attack the fundamental basis of our society”, she proposed that the current minimum term should be raised from 30 years to a life sentence without parole.
In her speech to rank and file officers, Theresa May said that the public “ask police officers to keep us safe by confronting and stopping violent criminals… Sometimes you are targeted by criminals because of what you represent… We are clear – life should mean life for anyone convicted of killing a police officer.”
Under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Justice Secretary is allowed to put set out orders changing sentencing guidelines for judges- after consultation with the Sentencing Council (the body that oversees sentencing in England and Wales). Under the 2003 Act, Chris Grayling would be able to change the minimum sentence to a mandatory life term, meaning that those convicted could not be released except at the discretion of the Justice Secretary on compassionate grounds (terminal illness or similar).
Currently, such whole life sentences can be imposed in murder cases if the case is so serious that the convicted murdered merits such a sentence. There are currently 47 prisoners in England who have been given such whole life sentences, including the likes of Rosemary West and Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper”.
Despite the legal and constitutional mechanics behind such a change (ultimately introducing whole life tariffs for police officer killings would require Parliament to alter the relevant legislation), there is support for such change in sentencing.
In support, shadow policing minister David Hanson agreed with Ms May that “the killing of a police officer is a particularly heinous crime that should be punished with the severest possible sentences”, and Police Federation chairman Steve Williams was also supportive.
It was a statement that garnered great support for the Home Secretary at the Police Federation, as many police officers have been killed or seriously wounded by criminals over the last few years.
After being heckled at last year’s Police Federation conference, it was a welcome change for Ms May that rank and file police seem overall supportive of her proposals, such as allowing police to take charge of shoplifting prosecutions where the value of the goods is less than £200, and ending plans for compulsory severance. However, there is still much ill will against the Home Secretary in the police over cuts and reforms to police services.
It is to be hoped the Home Secretary’s several proposals and will win police support, when implemented, restore public trust in the police.
In another damaging blow to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the financial crime agency was recently reprimanded in court.
In a pre-trial case management hearing (the actual case will not be heard before April 2014) , Mr. Justice Elder commented that “those kind of delays are completely unacceptable,” upon hearing that the SFO had taken six weeks to reply to questions from the brothers over the procedures used in their arrest last year, and the search of their premises. “It is a matter of extreme regret that it took the SFO from December 3 until the end of January before putting in train real attempts to deal with disclosure.”
The claimant the claimant Tchenguiz brothers put forward their application for a judicial review over delays in getting answers as to SFO behaviour over their arrest last year, and the search of their premises. The agency had taken six weeks to reply to the brothers, who are suing over their arrest last year.
The agency had arrested the brothers last year in conjunction with investigations into the collapsed Icelandic bank Kaupthing. In a judicial review action brought by the brothers, the arrest and search warrants were found to be invalid, and mistakes made by the agency in their investigations were revealed, to stinging criticisms from the judge. The brothers were successful in their judicial review, and are now suing the SFO for £300m in damages.
In response, SFO barrister Dominic Dowley QC apologised for the delay, and cited the instruction of new solicitors as the reason; the SFO is now instructing City firm Slaughter & May. However, the judge also found fault with the Tchenguiz brothers. Mr. Justice Eder criticised the Tchenguiz brothers for not properly detailing their claims against the SFO, stating that there was “serious deficiencies” in their case preparation. In particular, he singled out Robert Tchenguiz’s legal time for failing to comply with the court mandated timetable of disclosure.
It is yet another judicial rebuke for the SFO. In the initial judicial review last year, serious mistakes were uncovered at the agency in the handling of the investigation. More recently, it was alleged that former chief Richard Alderman (who will be called to give evidence in the case) has signed off on up to £1m in exit payments for three senior outgoing staff, without Whitehall approval, whilst director of the SFO. Shadow Attorney-General Emily Thornberry has called for an investigation of Mr. Alderman for malfeasance in a public office. The instructing of Slaughter & May as solicitors for the SFO at great cost to the taxpayer is also questionable. In the background of such allegations, and the ongoing legal battle with the Tchenguizes lies the (now defunct) spectre of the long drawn out investigation into dealings between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia, which were dropped several years ago, giving rise to criticism.
Mr. Alderman was replaced by David Green as director of the SFO last April. Of the Tchenguiz case, Mr. Green said last week that it was a “wake-up call” for the agency. “It represented a significant failure in the quality of our decision-making… In response, we have restructured the organisation, building in layers of quality control.” Amidst such scandals, it is clear that Mr. Green has a long way to go to restore public and government confidence in the SFO and its abilities to tackle serious financial crime. A resolution to the case brought by the Tchenguizes would be a welcome start in restoring the reputation of the SFO.
Eagerly awaited by proponent and critic alike, the High Court delivered its verdict on HS2 late last week. Despite the court ruling, the issue is still open and divisive for all concerned parties.
As the HS2 draft plans stand, a dedicated £33bn network of high speed rail links would cut journey times to the regions and northern cities by the end of the first stage in 2025, and would eventually link up with regional train services. The Department for Transport (DfT) figures claim that the completed service would create journey times between London and Birmingham of 49 minutes, with a London to Manchester journey taking 68 minutes, and halving times between Birmingham and Manchester to 41 minutes by 2032. The advantages, and economic potential of such a high speed rail link are immense.
However, many residents, communities, pressure groups and local councils along the proposed route are skeptical of the economic potential. Above all, they cite the detrimental environmental impact, and the effects on rural communities, of such a high speed link. Another criticism raised was that alternative schemes were not adequately considered during the consultation process. Four protest groups applied for five judicial reviews of the consultation, claiming failures in the consultation process, and a failure to properly assess the impact of HS2 on the environment.
In handing down his verdict on the consultation process for HS2, Mr Justice Ouseley ruled in favour of the government on nine of the ten legal points raised in the judicial review. However, he was scathing in his assessment of how the residents had been treated during the process.
Mr Justice Ouseley ruled against the part of the consultation which concerned compensation for local residents, and allowed a right of appeal on two counts; “the consultation process in respect of blight and compensation was all in all so unfair as to be unlawful.”
Both sides claimed a legal victory following the judgment. Rail minister Simon Burns said that the ruling was a “green light” for HS2.”[This] is good news, because the project is in the national interest… [The judgment is a] convincing decision… on all the key issues of the way in which the Department for Transport has handled the moving forward of HS2.”
Mr Burns announced that the DfT would run another property consultation into compensation, “picking up the points” highlighted by the judicial review. In confirming that the government would not appeal against the compensation ruling, the minister insisted that the new consultation would not affect the planned timetable for HS2.
Also claiming victory were 18 councils, anti-HS2 lobby group 51m, High Speed 2 Action Alliance (HS2AA- a campaign group representing over 70 affiliated groups and associations), and Aylesbury Golf Club. HS2AA director Hilary Wharf said that “the government must now go back to the drawing board and rethink its approach to compensation… The Government’s shabby attempt to railroad through an inadequate compensation scheme, whilst ignoring the views of ordinary people, has been judged to be unlawful. Today’s judgment is a huge victory for the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are blighted by HS2.” Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle agreed; “it is right that this vital infrastructure project can now proceed once ministers have re-run the part of the consultation that they botched.”
Despite now being able to go ahead with plans and developments for HS2, the DfT will also have to consider the campaigners’ views over compensation and related matters. Currently, only residents within 60 metres of the route can be compensated. However, the proposed route affects nearly 172,000 properties within 0.6 miles of the route, and many local communities. Under the campaigners’ proposals, the government will have to consider offering a property bond to underwrite the value of homes near the route, which will fall in value drastically. The judgement ruled that the plans were compatible with EU regulations on the environment and habitat; but the protesters will still be seeking to raise the environmental impact, and detrimental affect on the landscape, as a major concern
The judgement on HS2 may have been handed down, and has allowed it to continue as planned. Despite the jubilation from both sides outside the court, the path to HS2 is laid with many more such challenges between DfT and local pressure groups.
Parliament has proposed a number of controversial changes to the Security and Justice Bill early last week. Some politicians adamantly support the potential changes. However, many interest groups fighting to protect civil liberties are concerned there may serious implications if these changes go into effect.
These amendments would create several key changes that have created outrage among many groups. First of all, the new bill calls to reform parliament’s intelligence and security committee. This committee handles oversight of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and other intelligence and communications agencies.
The possible changes to the intelligence and security committee have stirred up a fair amount of controversy among many groups. However, the most concerning change in the bill is a revision that would expand the use of secret courts. The procedures used to conduct trials in secret courts could be extended to apply to the main civil courts as well.
Human rights activists have stated that this would create a shift of power from judge’s to ministers. They fear that this could deprive defendants of their right to a fair trial.
These changes were originally suggested in the House of Lords. Members of Parliament in the House of Commons support some measures of the bill, but may not support them in their entirety.
Many Democrats believe that the new revisions are a step in the right direction. However, some members of the party don’t believe the government should expand secret courts.
Justice Andy Slaughter said that the right to a fair trial must be held paramount when considering the use of secret courts. He said that all secret court hearings used in civil court trials will need to be carefully scrutinized to ensure defendants’ liberties are not infringed upon. Slaughter and many other lawmakers will probably be reluctant to support the changes until the necessary constitutional safeguards are put into place.
A judge from the court of appeals has ruled that property laws geared towards cohabiting couples are unfair. Justice Toulson said that these laws come at the expense of women who lose their savings after breaking up with their partners. Toulson said that lawmakers have proposed reforming the existing property tax laws. However, these reforms were struck down in Parliament.
Toulson cited a case where a couple were partners in two businesses they operated while living together. The court ruled that the woman was not entitled to receive anything when the two of them separated. Toulson gave the woman permission to appeal the lower court’s decision. He told her that the law was not written in the interests of unmarried women and she should take it to the appeals court.
Toulson said that the woman and her partner had been together since the 1970s. She lost her entire savings several years before she planned to retire. He said that these laws are very sad and should be rewritten to reflect the interests of people who choose not to get married. Toulant said that the law is particularly unfair to women who choose not to get married to their partners.
Unfortunately, the judge in this woman’s case was forced to rule in favor of her partner. The appeals judge said that his colleagues are forced to uphold unjust laws, whether they like them or not. He said that lawmakers will need to consider these implications.
Unfortunately, the existing law will probably not be reformed anytime soon. Lawmakers considered reforming the law in 2011, but there were many other pending reforms on the books at the time. They seem reluctant to consider changing the existing property law even if their dockets clear up. However, lawmakers may need to reconsider their decision. They have acknowledged that the number of married couples have dropped by nearly a quarter of a million in the last year, while the number of cohabiting couples has risen by nearly 50%.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has proposed a new bill that could overturn hundreds of years of tradition for the royal family. The new law would include two groundbreaking provisions. First of all, the law would state that males would no longer be given priority in the royal line of succession. The new law would also overturn a provision that prevents a member of the royal family from becoming king or queen after marrying a Catholic.
Clegg said that the current policies on the royal line of succession are based on antiquated ideas. He said they reflect sexist ideas and laws that reflect bigoted views towards Catholics which are no longer held by the people of the United Kingdom. He said that the citizenry and lawmakers of modern Britain believe that all people should be treated equally.
He feels that the existing laws are not consistent with the constitution, commonwealth or the image Britain portrays to the rest of the world. Clegg argues that the views of the people and the philosophy of the British constitution should carry to the monarchy as well.
The bill has received both support and opposition from various factions within the House of Commons. However, almost every Member of Parliament said the timeframe Clegg created for the bill is not realistic. The deputy prime minister wants to get the bill through Parliament in less than two days.
The new bill would be a revolutionary reform for the royal family and the House of Lords. However, it is too early to determine whether or not other lawmakers will support it. Clegg will probably find that he will not be able to pass the bill by Friday as he hoped.
Prince Charles has challenged Clegg’s recent move. The Prince said that Clegg may not have considered all the possible implications of the bill. One of the potential consequences the prince raised is the suitability of a child raised as Catholic to act as Governor of the Church of England. However, Clegg said that he disagrees with the concerns the prince has raised.
As the government tax cuts continue to go further, there is a growing concern among the poorer in our society of the standard of life they will be able to afford as more government aid is cut.
The current system in the UK entitles everyone to free, government provided legal aid if they request it. However, with government debt rapidly growing on interest payments alone, something needs to be done to slash spending. The judicial review is pointing to the £1billion spent a year on criminal legal aid, with Grayling stating ‘you have to challenge whether taxpayers are getting appropriate value for money.” A view which many taxpayers in our society would be quick to agree with.
When the taxpayer foots the bill, often in the case of clearly guilty and publicly hated figures of terrible crimes, there is always going to be strong public opinion on these issues. The State is most definitely not considering abandoning the numbers of people who can get accept to legal help, simply the type of legal help they will be entitled to for free. The current suggestion is to replace teams and well established lawyers with recent graduates, trainees and single defence.
The amendment has already seen backlash, in complex cases were experience is necessary the government seem to be condemning the poor to a less than fair trial against a skilled prosecution case. It almost seems to be a case of the poor receiving a sentence without trial, as even the innocent will not get a truly fair trial. As if the state was truly run by black and white law, there would be no need for lawyers, but in a complex grey scale world, it seems, only the rich can afford real justice.
Although rarely considered the victims, solicitor unemployment rose by over 400% in 2009, and the future looks bleak for the already unemployed and graduates pouring out of law school every year.
Financial analysts are forecasting that the third quarter report of high-street UK banks may indicate additional reserves for PPI claims. The Financial Ombudsman reports that it is receiving at least 1,500 claims on a daily basis and they recently reached their 500,000th claim. Barclays and Lloyds, two of UK’s biggest banks, continue to approach the red zone gradually due to every increasing PPI compensation costs.
Currently, Barclays holds £2 billion in repaying PPI compensation and announced an additional £700 million to address additional PPI. More than the amount they thought they need to compensate, Lloyds, holding at least £4.3 billion, might need to add a further £2.3 billion to their PPI compensation pot. HSBC and RBS each have £1.1 and £1.3 billion in total respectively, taking the total UK PPI bill close to £13 billion.
Analysts state that with the rising number of PPI complaints, the PPI compensation bill may reach £16 billion within the next 12 months. However, The PPI crisis might continue until the year 2016, based on current performance and speed of processing the claims, so the total PPI bill may be well over £25 billion.
The Financial Ombudsman recently increased their manpower and rented spaces with fixed contracts to continue to process the situation.
Banks have blamed claims management companies for the large number of claims being received, with Lloyds Banking Group stating that a large proportion (up to 25%) are bogus or fraudulent claims. However, recent reports indicate that the Financial Ombudsman has ruled against Lloyds in 98% of claims that they had initially rejected, suggesting that Lloyds may be rejecting claims without properly investigating them.
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‘In some areas of civil litigation, costs are disproportionate and impede access to justice. I therefore propose a coherent package of interlocking reforms, designed to control costs and promote access to justice.’ These were words said by Lord Justice Rupert Jackson before proposing reforms in civil law. The Ministry of Justice detailed at the beginning of October 2012 the proposed timetable for the changes to be fully implemented.
The new policy decisions mean the reforms will be implemented as of the 1st of April 2013 and they basically curb ‘no win no fee’ claims. The key reforms are as so;
• Lawyers will no longer be able to recover after the fact costs and success fees.
• General damages will rise by 10%.
• In personal injury cases, success fees will be limited to 25% of the damages
While two of the key reform points are aiming to making the successful client better off than they would be before the reform com into place, the first reform rules out ‘no win no fee’ claims. With some claimants only taking their cases to court due to the fact that if they do not win, they pay no fees, there will probably be a fall in the number of cases that will make it to court.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are committed to reforming the ‘no win no fee’ system so that legal costs for reasonable compensation claims will be more proportionate, and avoidable claims will be deterred from going to court. This will help us to move away from the current unacceptable situation where, for example, the NHS paid £200m to claimants’ lawyers for compensation cases in 2010-11 – around three times more than it paid its own lawyers.
With no major reforms in the justice system for 15 years, supporters of the reforms may argue that the justice system is being exploited. However, by basically ruling out the ‘no win no fee’ claims, many people may view the reforms as denying access to justice for genuine victims who may not take their cases to court in case they lose and have to pay expensive lawyer fees.