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Letter of the Law
Thursday, 7th May 2020
An early morning round up of news for legal professionals across the UK





New chief judge says technology can streamline justice system

The new chief judge of the Old Bailey has heralded a brave new world of criminal justice, with technology playing a part after the pandemic. Judge Mark Lucraft said that technology can help streamline the system. “The way we have had to adapt very rapidly shows that we can do hearings using modern technology in a way that will stay with us long after this pandemic has passed on”. Judge Lucraft also hopes moves to make courts more accessible, including filming judges as they pass sentence, will not be delayed for long, and further commented on wanting to “build on the work of his predecessor” in bringing in a more gender-diverse, background-diverse judiciary.

Daily Mail The I, Page: 11


Jury trials or video links?

Ministers and senior judges are considering plans to get jury trials back on track as soon as the lockdown is loosened. A working group chaired by the High Court judge Mr Justice Edis and including representatives from the legal profession, government and prison service is looking at plans to use larger courts that would enable participants to follow social distancing guidance. Justice, a law reform think tank, has run three experimental fully remote jury trials, with an evaluation suggesting that the trials worked reasonably well, but that technological failures needed to be urgently addressed. Lord David Anderson, QC, proposes a hybrid solution of a judge sitting with two lay magistrates - a system already used in the Crown Court for appeals against verdicts or sentencing in magistrates' courts.

The Times, Page: 58


High street law firms under threat

Figures from the Law Society show that more than 70% of high street law firms might have to shut down within the next six months owing to lockdown. The society’s president Simon Davis also pointed to additional research that showed that lockdown had led to a 60% fall in work in property conveyancing and a cessation of housing possession cases. An additional problem, the society says, is that solicitors across the UK are exempt from the chancellor’s business rates relief.

The Times, Page: 58


Insolvency brings business to City firms

Jonathan Ames proposes in the Times that big City law firms are likely to save themselves from collapse amid the COVID-19 whirlwind by quickly adapting to deal with insolvency, as specialists in finance, mergers and acquisitions or private equity can be redeployed almost immediately. “It is likely that almost all businesses and sectors will be affected by the crisis, but some will be hit more significantly than others," Malcolm Hitching, a partner at the London office of the US firm Ropes & Gray, says. "As the government assistance is phased out the reality of the new economic norm is going to hit many companies hard and quickly," adds Edward Starling, a partner at Wedlake Bell.

The Times, Page: 59


Home Office accused of pressuring judiciary over immigration decisions

The Home Office has been accused of interfering with the independence of the judiciary after judges were asked to provide written explanations for a rise in the number of detainees released from immigration centres during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the president of the Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber, the Home Office’s head of appeals, James Stevens, wrote: “Where bail is granted I would ask you to consider whether immigration judges could provide written reasons for this.”

The Guardian, Page: 14





Threat to publish sex images to be a crime

Threatening to publish sexual or intimate images could become an offence under proposals being considered by the Law Commission, by extension of the existing law on revenge porn. Under the new law, those who threaten to publish in order to coerce and bully will face up to two years in prison. Targets of revenge porn are also in line to be given anonymity in the same way rape claimants are protected.

The Daily Telegraph, Page: 14





Legal proceedings against Ofsted begin

Legal proceedings began yesterday at the High Court in Leeds, in a dispute between Ofsted and Christian child fostering agency Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service. Cornerstone is suing the watchdog over its findings in an as-yet unpublished report that the agency has been “discriminating” against same-sex couples by only working with evangelical carers in heterosexual marriages.

The Daily Telegraph, Page: 13 BBC News


Anti-abortion poster ban upheld

An anti-abortion campaigner has lost a legal fight against Waltham Forest Council over posters featuring images of MP Stella Creasy alongside photographs of a dead foetus. The council used a community protection notice to remove the posters after they were put up last October, and a judge has now agreed that the CPN was “a proportionate response to the situation.”

BBC News The Guardian, Page: 19


Court of Appeal dismisses Indian bank’s fraud claim

The Court of Appeal in London has refused permission for the British subsidiary of Punjab National Bank to appeal against a judgment dismissing its $45m claim for fraud and misrepresentation in respect of loans given to Indian and US companies. The Court criticised PNB’s failure to disclose existing proceedings it had brought in the debt tribunal in Chennai. Zaiwalla & Co, representing the defendants, said: “The case serves as a message that the English Courts will take a very dim view of a ‘lack of candour’ with the Court.”

Press Release


Home Office taken to court over benefits policy

The Home Office is being taken to the high court by an eight-year-old boy over a lack of access to the welfare safety net. The case argues that the Home Office’s no recourse to public funds policy is unlawful and increases the risk of families becoming destitute during the current public health crisis.

The Guardian, Page: 4





Shakespeare Martineau shakes up business model

A Birmingham law firm has announced a major restructure. Shakespeare Martineau said its new business units will each be led by a managing director working with "super team leaders". The three units are life and business led by Victoria Tester, litigation services and dispute resolution led by Mark Beesley and infrastructure and specialist markets led by Alex Smith. In addition, Joanna Deffley, Duncan James and Kavita Patel have been appointed as new regional heads for the West Midlands, East Midlands and South respectively.

The Birmingham Post, Page: 51


Lawyer of the week

The Times’ lawyer of the week if David Robertson, a senior lawyer at the government legal department, who was part of the team acting for the registrar-general of England and Wales in the Court of Appeal, which upheld an earlier decision that a transgender man who gave birth to a child must be registered as the child’s mother.

The Times


Waldie takes over as Gateley boss

Gateley has installed its new chief executive as long-serving incumbent Michael Ward steps down. Rod Waldie, previously senior office partner in the Manchester office, has taken over at the Birmingham-based law firm, while Mr Ward will remain in situ as an executive board member with responsibility for the group's non-legal consulting businesses.

The Birmingham Post, Page: 51





Online crime victims fail to secure justice

Victims of online fraud and abuse are being turned away by police who refuse to recognise the offences as crimes despite compelling evidence, a Home Office-backed study has found. Researchers at Portsmouth University said four of the 52 people interviewed saw their perpetrators brought to justice and only 13 received a response from the police such as a phone call, visit or email.

The Daily Telegraph, Page: 14





Barclay sues nephews over Ritz sale

Sir Frederick Barclay has accused his nephews of selling the Ritz for “half the market price” after secretly recording conversations between the hotel’s billionaire co-owner and a Saudi investor offering £1.3bn for the London landmark, the high court has heard. Barclay is suing three of his twin brother Sir David Barclay’s sons over 1,000 conversations secretly recorded over several months. The hotel was sold by David’s side of the family in March for £700m and £750m, despite a threat from Frederick of legal action if it was sold for less than £1bn.

The Times The Guardian Daily Express, Page: 17 The I, Page: 33 Financial Times, Page: 10





UK prepares to drop ‘stay at home’ message

Boris Johnson is expected to announce an easing of restrictions on Sunday with some measures possibly rolled out on Monday. The Prime Minister said the lockdown would be lifted gradually with action taken based on data and predictions supplied by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). It is thought the measures will be eased one at a time, to allow the effects of each to be closely monitored until the experts are satisfied more changes can be made. It comes as the number of deaths in the UK from coronavirus has now reached 30,076. The total is behind only the US, and represents 12% of reported global deaths from COVID-19.

The Daily Telegraph, Page: 1, 2 The Times, Page: 4, 5 Daily Mail Financial Times The Guardian, Page: 1, 2 The Sun, Page: 11-13 Daily Mirror, Page: 4, , 6, 75 The Independent, Page: 5, 6 Daily Express, Page: 1, 4, 5 BBC News


Government adviser will not face action over coronavirus lockdown breach

After government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson was found to have allowed his lover to visit his London home on at least two occasions while coronavirus restriction measures were in place, Scotland Yard has said no action will be taken. The force issued a statement saying: “Prof Ferguson has accepted that he made an error of judgement and has taken responsibility for that.”

Evening Standard The I, Page: 5 The Sun, Page: 7 The Independent, Page: 8 The Times, Page: 4, 5





Brussels plans new anti-money laundering authority

The EU is to consult on plans to create a new anti-money laundering enforcement body as Brussels seeks to ramp up Europe’s response to a wave of money-laundering scandals.

Financial Times


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