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New Laws Could see Internet Trolls Jailed for Two Years

October 20, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

According to Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, proposed changes to the law could see maximum jail sentences for internet trolls quadrupled. The current maximum sentence for online abuse is six months, but proposals could see this extended to two years.

Grayling said that he was determine to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob” through the introduction of tougher laws. Grayling also describe internet trolls as “cowards who are poisoning our national life.”

“No-one would permit such venom in person,” Grayling said, “so there should be no place for it on social media.”

Currently, prosecutions for abusive or threatening behaviour online are handled under the Malicious Communications Act, and dealt with in magistrates’ courts. However, the act is now a decade old and, crucially, predates the role of social media in society, leading many to believe that it is no longer sufficient.

The quadrupling of the maximum sentence is not the only change that the propose reforms would make. The law, which would take the form of an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, would allow police more time for the collection of evidence relating to cases of online abuse. This would allow more prosecutions to be carried out successfully. Magistrates would also be empowered to refer the most serious cases of cyber-abuse to the crown courts.

There has been a particular spotlight on the matter of internet trolling recently, as many news outlets have reported on the online abuse that has been suffered by TV presenter Chloe Madeley. The spate of abuse came after Madeley spoke out in defence of controversial (and, she claimed, misunderstood) comments made by her mother Judy Finnigan on the subject of rape. After speaking out, Madeley received a number of abusive and messages through social media from internet trolls, including threats of rape.

Madeley herself has welcomed the news of the proposed law changes. However, she has expressed the view that social media should also be regulated. Whilst expressing her support for the concept of free speech, she said that “threats of any kind must not be interpreted as freedom of speech. Threatening to harm others is extreme and crosses the line of personal opinion into criminal behaviour.”

The proposed amendment is currently on its way through parliament, and is due to enter the House of Lords for debate within a week. The changes would only affect England and Wales and not Scotland.

 

House Arrest for Russian Billionaire

September 23, 2014 by admin No Comments »

One of Russia’s top billionaires, Vladimir Yevtushenkov was placed under house arrest on Tuesday this week while an investigation into money laundering charges against him is completed. Yevtushenkov is the head of Sistema holding company, which owns the Bashneft oil company in Bashkiria and is Russia’s 15th richest man with an estimate personal fortune of $9 billion.

Russia’s top investigative agency, The Federal Investigative Committee said that it had launched its probe into the 65 year old billionaire because it had “sufficient grounds to believe that AFK Sistema board chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov is involved in the legalisation of property acquired by criminal means.” Legalisation of property is a phrase used to describe money laundering.

There are however a number of Russian commentators and business men who have drawn attention to the parallels between this case and that of the politically motivated moves against the former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who ended up spending a whole decade in jail while his firm, Yukos, was dismantled by the Russian state.

The main beneficiary of the Yukos affair was Rosneft, the oil giant with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and they have been eager to acquire Bashneft assets since early this year. With the Investigative Committee reporting directly to the President, the similarities between the two cases have been striking, and the authorities are keen to play down any appearance of history repeating itself.

Nevertheless, news of Yevtushenkov’s arrest spread rapidly through Moscow’s political and business circles, prompting uncertainty at a time when confidence in the Russian economy is wavering.

The head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Alexander Shokhin, was quick to highlight the parallels with the Yukos affair when he talked to the Interfax news agency, going so far as to label it “Yukos 2″.

Yukos used to be Russia’s biggest oil company but was broken up after being forced into bankruptcy in 2003, when Khodorkovsky was arrested. Vladimir Putin had warned the growing class of oligarchs to stay out of politics, and the asset stripping of Yukos was seen at the time as a solid strike against them. The most profitable parts of Yukos were snapped up at a reduced price by Rosneft, which was a minor player in the oil industry at the time, and by other state companies in opaque auctions.

Khodorkovsky was released from prison last year, and now lives in Switzerland in what has been described as a self-imposed exile, while Rosneft is directly controlled by Igor Sechin, a top lieutenant of President Putin, who is widely believed to have orchestrated Yukos’ dismantling and Khodorkovsky’s downfall.

 

Senior Judge Diversity Held Back by “Deeply Elitist UK”

August 28, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

A recent study has called the UK “deeply elitist” and suggested that many top roles remain closed off to all but a select few from privileged backgrounds. Senior judges led the way in lacking diversity.

The study, carried out by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, examined the backgrounds of over 4,000 people in high-flying positions. Those who fell under the scope of the study included business professionals, prominent figures in the media industry, politicians and important public sector figures. The study found that a hugely disproportionate number of positions were held by a small, elite group who had been privately educated and/or attended Oxbridge.

The findings held true across the board, 36% of the cabinet, 55% of high-level civil servants and 62% of senior officers in the armed forces were privately-educated at independent schools such as Eton and Harrow. However, senior judges were the single group which was most decidedly dominated by those from privileged backgrounds. A full 71% of senior judges were privately educated at prestigious fee-paying schools, and 75% hold degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge.

In the UK population as a whole, only 7% of people have been privately educated, meaning that even the lowest of these figures seems massively disproportionate. In the case of senior judges specifically, the proportion of individuals who were privately educated is more than ten times that found in the country as a whole. The disparity between the proportions of Oxbridge graduates in the UK population and the ranks of senior judges is even more apparent. Three quarters of senior judges hold an Oxbridge degree, compared to less than 1% of the UK population.

In the report, which the Commission claims is among the most detailed examinations of this matter to date, this disparity is described as “elitism so stark that it could be called social engineering.”

According to Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, these findings should be a “wake-up call” to the government and to educational bodies such as schools and universities. Milburn said that “the institutions that matter appear to be a cosy club,” on account of the fact that the top jobs are still “disproportionately held by people from a narrow range of backgrounds.”

However, some have taken issue with the conclusions of the reports. Sir Anthony Seldon, master of Berkshire’s Wellington College, insists that private schools are “part of the solution not the root of the problem.” He points out that the state schools that are performing well tend to be dominated by the middle classes, and believes that the key is to make quality education accessible to children from a wider range of backgrounds through scholarships and bursaries.

 

Better Legal Protection for Volunteers

June 3, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

Those who do voluntary work and similar good deeds are set to benefit from better legal protection against liability claims, according to a recent government announcement. Ministers stressed that people should not be put off of helping others by the risk of litigation.

The new law, which is expected to feature in the Queen’s Speech this Wednesday alongside other reforms such as pension changes, would affect volunteers carrying out work in England and Wales. It would encourage judges to look leniently on any such cases that get as far as the courtroom. In particular, judges will be given three factors to which they will be asked to give consideration:

  • Were the person’s actions “for the benefit of society?”
  • Did the person step in to provide help when an emergency arose?
  • Was the person acting in a “generally responsible way?”

If the answers to any or all of the above questions are “yes,” this could work significantly in the person’s favour.

The Ministry of Justice have expressed concerns that the risk of litigation for negligence may be acting as a deterrent to those who may otherwise volunteer to help others and do good works. Research has suggested that around 47% of people who do choose to volunteer are nonetheless concerned over the risks posed by legal liability in the event of an accident or injury.

As an example, the Ministry of Justice pointed towards Street Pastors, who provide voluntary support to those taking part in the nightlife of various UK towns. According to the Ministry of Justice, concerns about health and safety have led to the removal of “dustpans and brushes from street pastors clearing up glass and offering support to town centre revellers.” There have also been claims that demands for public liability insurance, sometimes or values as high as £5 million, have led to the cancelling of community events such as picnics and street parties.

According to Justice Secretary Christ Grayling; “I want a society where common sense is the order of the day, and I believe this measure will help us get there.”

Under the new law, similar consideration will be given to employers when there are accidents or other issues in the workplace that are not actually the employers’ fault. The bill will “put the law more clearly on [their] side,” according to a statement. The Ministry of Justice went on to suggest that this would protect owners of small businesses from the actions of “irresponsible employees” when said business owners have themselves taken a “responsible approach to safety training and procedures.”

 

Wales may ban Public E-cigarette Smoking

April 2, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

One of the key selling points of e-cigarettes as a tool for giving up smoking has always been that they are legal to smoke in places where real cigarettes are not. However, this may be about to change as Wales considers a law banning their use in enclosed public spaces.

According to ministers, one of the key reasons for considering this ban is that the use of the devices – which often look almost identical to real cigarettes – undermines the enforcement of the smoking ban and normalises smoking as something that can be done publicly. There are also concerns over the fact that while many of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes are absent from e-cigarettes, the addictive substance nicotine is usually still present.

The proposal was contained in a white paper detailing ideas for legislation to protect public health. The paper also contained ideas such as a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol, harsher penalties for retailers who provide tobacco to people under 18, and requirements for local authorities to ensure the availability of public toilets.

Dr Ruth Hussey, Chief Medical Officer, welcomed the proposed ban on e-cigarettes. Dr Hussey said: “On the seventh anniversary of the smoking ban, it is symbolic that Wales is once again at the forefront of a new set of radical proposals to improve public health.”

Many e-cigarette users take a very different viewpoint. They say that there are studies demonstrating that passive smoking from e-cigarettes poses no public health risk. They also point out that if they are combined to designated smoking areas with users of real cigarettes, their own health will be put at risk by passive smoking.

However, Health Minister Mark Drakeford maintains that the proposal is one that will serve the interests of public health. He pointed out that “E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug.”

Drakeford also voiced other concerns about the impact that smoking e-cigarettes in public spaces may have, particularly in terms of the messages it sends out. He said: “I have concerns about the impact of e-cigarettes on the enforcement of Wales’ smoking ban. That’s why we are proposing restricting their use in enclosed public places. I am also concerned that their use in enclosed public places could normalise smoking behaviour.”

The proposed ban, along with all other proposals contained in the white paper, is still subject to consultation. If the ban does ultimately go through, some believe that other parts of the UK may subsequently follow suit.

The potential ban comes soon after another high-profile proposal to ban smoking in cars that contain children, as ministers around the UK continue to focus on matters of public health.

 

New Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme Introduced

March 10, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

The new Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, aimed at combating domestic violence, has now been introduced. The scheme, commonly called “Clare’s Law” in honour of late domestic violence victim Clare Wood (pictured), allows people to contact police in order to discover whether their partner has a history of domestic violence.

The scheme took effect on 8th March to coincide with International Women’s Day. The introduction of the scheme followed pilots in four areas across England and Wales; Manchester, Wiltshire, Nottingham and Gwent. Since the pilots started in 2012, a reporting number of more than 100 women gained information that could possibly prove life-saving. Based upon this success, the decision was made to roll out the scheme across the UK.

Theresa May, Home Secretary, expressed her pleasure at the introduction of the scheme. “Clare’s Law,” she said, “will give some help to those people who think they have a partner who may be acting in a way which suggests that they are somebody who is violent.” May said that the scheme, through allowing women with concerns to find out if their partners have a history of violence to reassess their situation and safety and be “able to take a decision as to whether to stay with them or not.”

The scheme is named in honour of Clare Wood, who was murdered by a violent ex-boyfriend in 2009. Ms Wood was unaware that her boyfriend had previous convictions for domestic violence, including one that resulted in a three year jail term. As such, she was not warned about the extent of his violent tendencies.

Ms Wood’s father, Michael Brown, has since campaigned enthusiastically for the introduction of a scheme allowing women to obtain information about any previous history of violence in their partners. He believes that his daughter would not have been killed had she been able to find out about her killer’s past.

Mr Brown said that he was “absolutely delighted” that the scheme had been rolled out to “bring protection into the country for half the population.” He also encouraged women to use the scheme without hesitation if they had concerns, saying “It’s there to be used. Get it used, ask! If you are in a domestic violence situation or you think you could be seek advice and get out of there.” In support of this point, he highlighted the fact that 120 women lose their lives to domestic violence annually.

In tandem with Clare’s Law, Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) have also been brought in to bring extra protection to victims. Following a report of domestic violence, DVPOs could prevent offenders from contacting their victims in any way for up to 28 days.

 

 

UK Magistracy is “Shrinking and Ageing”

February 27, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

According to a report from Transform Justice, the recruitment of lay magistrates in the UK is “facing a crisis.” The report, which was entitled Magistrates: Representative of the People?, found that the UK’s magistracy was “shrinking and ageing.” It also concluded that magistrates in the UK were disproportionately middle class and white compared to the country’s population.

Transform Justice also described magistrate numbers as being in “freefall,” after identifying that they had suffered a decline of 28% compared to 2007. In 2013, nearly 2000 people left the magistracy while only 300 joined. This discrepancy, according to the report, is due to most areas suffering from a “recruitment freeze.” The report claimed that the issue is not being sufficiently addressed at present.

Furthermore, the report discovered that far from simply failing to represent ethnic communities within Britain proportionately, the magistracy is actually becoming less representative. Proportionally speaking, the number of magistrates from ethnic minority backgrounds is 6% lower than the UK population, compared to just 2% in 1999.

Magistrates are also becoming older. In 1999, only 32% of magistrates were over 60. For 2013, the report found this figure had inflated to nearly 56%. In 14 different specific areas, this figure was above 60%.

Social class was found to be another area in which magistrates poorly represented the population of the UK as a whole. More than 50% of lay magistrates were in occupations that would be widely identified as middle class, including managerial, professional, and senior official roles. In the UK as a whole, on the other hand, these people account for only 28% of the population. Furthermore, people who work in customer services or sales roles account for 8% of the UK population but only 1.5% of magistrates.

Measures proposed in the report to deal with these issues include the introduction of positive discrimination and entrusting recruitment to the Judicial Appointments Commission.  The positive discrimination in question would enable recruiters to favour a candidate from an underrepresented group for reasons of better representation when two candidates are otherwise of equal suitability. This measure already exists for the recruitment of salaried judges.

It is also suggested that it should be made easier for working people to serve as magistrates. This, it is suggested, could be done by introducing an absolute right to take time off in order to sit. Further suggestions include a fixed tenure of ten years and greater sentencing powers for magistrates.

The report claims that a key source of these problems is the lack of clear, specific policy regarding magistrate recruitment. While there have been active efforts to improve diversity among the salaried, professional arm of the judiciary, no such agenda has existed for lay magistrates.

 

What to do if you might be owed PPI compensation

January 14, 2014 by admin No Comments »

Because of money-laundering salespersons and insurance companies, many people have become the victim of PPI mis-selling. If you bought a mis-sold PPI, there is a very strong chance that you won’t be getting anything from your payment protection insurance. Nonetheless, if you are a victim of PPI mis-selling, you have every right to get back the money that you’ve placed in your insurance.  You can claim your PPI refund from a claims company that can do all the work for you, or you can choose to try to get the compensation yourself.  Here is how you can file for a PPI claim:

Before Filing a PPI Claim

  • Check Your Validity – Before you start processing your documents for a PPI claim, make sure that you are qualified for a PPI claim in the first place. Contact and ask the company that sold you your loan. Most of these lenders will tell you straight up on the phone if you’ve had a PPI in your account.
  • Gather Your Documents – You won’t exactly need your documents right away when you want to start filing your PPI claim, but you will need them in the long run. You can contact your lender to give you a copy of your terms and conditions.
  • Look Over a PPI Mis-Selling Checklist – The next step would be to find out if you were a victim of PPI mis-selling. Look for a PPI mis-selling checklist on the Internet.
  • Contact the Insurance Company – If you believe that you are indeed one of the many people who bought void PPIs, contact your insurance company and ask for a refund. While it was a lot harder to negotiate with insurance companies before, many are now willing to negotiate even through phone calls.
  • Contact the Financial Ombudsman Service – It is possible that the insurance company will reject your demand for a refund. If this happens, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service and make an official complaint. The Ombudsman will also help you determine if you have a viable case or not.
 

Appeal granted in paralysed RAF man’s compensation claim

December 2, 2013 by admin No Comments »

Robert Uren, 24, sought and won in the region of £6 million in compensation after a long legal battle, appeal and High Court Ruling in his favour in February this year.  The case is now, however, said to be under appeal and his compensation under threat.

The former RAF technician became wheel-chair bound after being paralysed from the waist down, and he also suffers severe spasms.  He sustained these injuries after fracturing three vertebrae in his neck while taking part in an ‘It’s a Knock-out’ style game at an organized event. The game involved jumping into a pool containing 18 inches of water to retrieve plastic fruit. There were rival teams competing and around half of the other competitors were diving into the water in the same manner as Mr. Uren.

Mr Uren took legal action against the Ministry of Defence, for holding the event and Corporate Leisure (UK) Ltd, for providing the inflatable equipment. The compensation claim stems from Mr. Uren believing that the Ministry of Defence and event organisers were to blame for encouraging him, and others, to take part in a dangerous event, one which proved catastrophic for him. Mr Justice Foskett ruled in favour of Mr Uren, stating that the MOD and event organisers were liable for the injuries sustained by Mr Uren as the risk assessment was fatally flawed. He also commented that steps could have been taken to remove the risk of serious injury such as issuing safety instructions.

By ruling in favour of Mr Uren, the door was opened for his compensation claim of £6 million, which it is argued he needs in order to have the lifelong support and assistance that is required for his injuries. Orginally, Mr Uren received a lump sum of over £200,000 from the Compensation Scheme provided by the Armed Forces, and he also received a military pension and an annual payment from the compensation scheme.  This has, however, been described as inadequate as it is not enough to fund suitable accommodation, transportation, equipment and therapies that he now needs after his injuries were sustained.

 

ECHR Condemns UK Newspapers for Misleading Reports

October 20, 2013 by admin No Comments »

British newspapers are on the fray as the European Commission on Human Rights accused them of publishing misleading reports. The ECHR emailed a statement to reporters that it was concerned about the “frequent misinterpretation” of the ECHR’s activities in UK newspapers.

Compensation and Costs

The ECHR pointed out that the press service had taken a “serious misinterpretation” of many variables in the statement. For example, one scenario had one UK newspaper report that Human Rights judges had awarded 202 criminals with taxpayer money amounting to £4.4 million, which means they are given £22,000 for compensation. However, the true amount is only within £1.7 million.

According to the ECHR, the newspapers’ failure to distinguish between compensation and costs, and making the common error of combining the two, creates an impression that people were awarded more than they were actually due. Some newspapers were also accused of writing the sums as if it were for the applicants’ sole benefit.

Most newspapers label even the costs to be part of the compensation of an applicant. Why the amounts of costs and expenses were higher than compensation is because legal fees are very high in the United Kingdom.

Not Even Legal Experts

Erik Friberg, the registrar of the ECHR, said that many newspapers in the United Kingdom had portrayed ECHR judges as “not even legal experts”. Because of the UK media’s interpretation of the judges’ activities, they appear to have a distorted picture of the court’s decisions and the statement they made is a first attempt to correct the situation.

Friberg said that judges were primarily concerned with reporters who had failed to see the proper summaries for their conclusions with the court’s press office and never even bothered to seek a response from the ECHR representatives itself.

Misinterpretation is very common among journalists, but it is often corrected with proper sources. Because courts are “closed”, most media journalists only depend on press duties the courts provide. However, the proper separation of terminologies and the right impression of language and wording is what ECHR is worried about.

However, the ECHR’s complaint is timely as the UK media is set to bring about a human right’s challenge against the UK government for the impending press regulation plans.