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Parking Fine Could go to Supreme Court

April 25, 2015 by Kelly No Comments »

Recently, the matter of parking penalties in private car parks has been subject to no shortage of controversy amid claims that these are excessive and not legally justified. Now one parking ticket under dispute may be heading to the Supreme Court, in a case which could establish whether these kinds of fine are indeed enforceable under common law or not.

The parking ticket in question has a value of £85, and was handed to chip shop owner Barry Beavis by car park operator ParkingEye. Beavis received the fine when he parked in a private car park with a two hour limit and left his car in place for nearly three hours.

The controversies surrounding these parking tickets and the matter of whether they are justified, valid and enforceable have largely revolved around the value of said tickets. These penalties tend to be very much greater than the legitimate costs of parking in the car park, and therefore much greater than any commercial loss suffered by car park operators. Often, they exceed any actual losses incurred by the motorist overstaying by many orders of magnitude – leading some to criticise them as extremely heavy-handed and others to question whether they can be legally upheld as proportionate to the offence and its impact on the car park operator.

However, Court of Appeal Judges looking at the case of ParkingEye v Beavis decided this week that the penalty issued by the operator was neither “extravagant nor unconscionable.” The judges believed that ParkingEye had not only commercial justifications on its side in handing down the £85 fine to Beavis, but also social justifications. The latter includes the boost that free parking can bring to local economies – something the judges felt must be protected with effective deterrents to prevent motorists from overstaying in such car parks and therefore keeping others from being able to use them.

Beavis was unhappy with this decision. Harcus Sinclair, the London legal firm representing him, has applied for the case to be taken to the Supreme Court for a final and absolute decision.

The executive director of consumer group Which?, Richard Lloyd, responded to the most recent ruling by saying that this decision could potentially “water down the law” on the issue of penalty charges issued by private firms. For example, Lloyd expressed concern that this decision might encourage companies such as mobile phone operators to start introducing hefty penalties for ending a contract early.

Which? has actively intervened in the case of ParkingEye v Beavis and, according to Lloyd, “given the possible ramifications of this case for all consumers, we will be looking to intervene again in the Supreme Court hearing.”


Legal Aid Agency Gains Claim to Criminal Assets

March 20, 2015 by Kelly No Comments »

Recent years have seen the introduction of a number of unpopular new legal aid reforms. However, the most recent reform to be announced has proved rather more popular within the legal industry than any of the recent funding cuts and restrictions of access. Under changes outlined by the Ministry of Justice recently, the Legal Aid Agency would gain power over the assets of convicted criminals in order to recoup legal aid costs associated with providing their defence.

Under the new rules, which must gain parliamentary approval before they come into force, “restrained” assets belonging to those who are convicted of the charges against them.  This is designed to offset the cost of providing legal aid to individuals who are, according to the verdict of the court, guilty. Other outstanding defence costs could also be paid by the seizure of such “restrained” assets. Usually, these are profits or items of value gained or believed to be gained as a result criminal activities.

Currently such assets are restrained under 2002′s Proceeds of Crime Act. While restrained, the assets cannot be spent, moved or otherwise utilised by the defendant. If the defendant is subsequently convicted, the court may confiscate these assets.

Other considerations would continue to take priority over the reclamation of legal costs, the Ministry of Justice said. First, compensation and confiscation orders benefitting the victims of the crime will be fulfilled. If any assets are left over when the victims have, as far as possible, had their property returned and/or received all compensation due, the Legal Aid Agency will then have a claim to those remaining assets in order to recoup costs.

The move is designed to relieve strain on the legal aid budget by reclaiming a portion of the money spent on defending the guilty. According to the Ministry of Justice, estimates suggest that this could result in savings of up to £2 million in legal aid costs every year.

Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, welcomed the move. He said: “For too long people convicted of crimes have avoided paying what they owe. Legal aid is taxpayers’ money and we have a duty to make sure it is not being spent on those we believe can afford to pay towards their legal costs.”

Grayling also described the changes as a “vital further step in making the legal aid system fair and credible.”

If they gain parliamentary approval, these changes could take effect as soon as the 1st of June this year.


New Law Outlaws “Revenge Porn”

February 12, 2015 by Kelly No Comments »

A new law in England and Wales has made it illegal to post images and videos of a type that has become known as “revenge porn.” This phrase refers to explicit images and videos taken by or given to a partner for personal use, but which that partner posts online after a breakup without the permission of the person depicted.

Some existing laws already had the potential to be used to prosecute revenge porn, but often legal action has not been taken in relation to such incidents. Now, the act of posting these images or videos online without the permission of the former partner involved has been made a specific criminal offence in England and Wales, and it is hoped that this will lead to greater numbers of successful prosecutions against perpetrators.

The concept of revenge porn is not entirely new, though the phrase has only recently been coined. In the past, there have been reports of exes sending explicit photos to pornographic magazines without the permission of the subject, or simply posting copies through the doors of friends and family to humiliate their former partners. However, advancing technology has amplified the problem in recent years.

The internet and its bustling market for user-uploaded videos and images has made it easier for people to share images of former partners, and has meant that they can now potentially be shared on a worldwide scale. As such, the problem of revenge porn has become bigger and more widespread, and websites have sprung up that are entirely devoted to sharing this kind of material. Social media has also made things easier for those vengeful exes who choose to share images with their immediate social circle and beyond.

At the same time, technologies such as digital photography and, in particular, the advent of smartphones with good-quality cameras have made it easier to create explicit images and to share them with a partner. Once people needed a dedicated camera and, unless they were content with a small Polaroid image, had to worry about where to get such a photo developed. Now, photos and even videos can now be captured digitally on a device that most people keep to hand at all times, and which is able to upload directly to the internet if the owner chooses.

The new law covers distribution offline as well as over the internet, including distribution of physical copies of the image. It covers any images “which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public” and which have been shared without the permission of the subject with the intention of causing harm.

The Scottish Government says that it plans to consult on the possibility of introducing a similar law in Scotland. The Northern Irish Department for Justice emphasises that revenge porn is illegal under existing laws, but also intends to consider the case for making it a specific offence.


Legal Professionals Call for Better Protection From State Surveillance

January 20, 2015 by Kelly No Comments »

Two major professional bodies in the legal industry, the Bar Council and the Law Society, have joined forces with organisations that represent those in industries such as journalism and social work to call for reform in areas of law dealing with the concept of surveillance. In particular, the collection of organisations is calling for better protections to be introduced against surveillance by the state.

The organisations have formed a coalition under the name Professionals for Information privacy. As well as the two legal industry bodies, this coalition includes the National union of Journalists and the British Association of Social Workers.

Yesterday, this coalition released a statement in which they called for stricter controls on the monitoring of communications between professionals and their clientele by state bodies. In this statement, the coalition claims that the current laws dealing with issues of surveillance are “complex and confusing and have been laid down in numerous, badly drafted pieces of legislation, codes and guidance.”

The statement claims that there have been too many instances of legislation dealing with data, communications and surveillance issues being hurried through parliament under the banner of emergency legislation. The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 is cited as the most recent example of this. Passing so much legislation in this rushed manner has, the coalition says, “undermined parliamentary scrutiny and democratic debate.”

The timing of the statement was pointed, as it coincided with the last day for responses to a major government consultation dealing with this aspect of law. Specifically, the government has been consulting on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and the codes of practice that are contained therein.

In their statement, the coalition says: “we have come together to call for the existing problems to be addressed in the various reviews still underway.” The organisations that make up the coalition are calling for access to the data held by professionals about their clients should benefit from legal protection, and that there should be oversight for this from independent judicial bodies. The coalition feels that “using codes of practice – such as the draft code under RIPA – undermines the rule of law.”

President of the Law Society Andrew Caplen emphasised the importance of clients being able to completely trust legal professionals and deal with them in confidence. If this is not the case, he said, “the rule of law and the administration of justice are undermined,” in a society where the innocent rely on legal advice for protection and businesses rely on legal advice to “[oil] the wheels of commerce.”


ASA Bans Three E-Smoking Adverts

December 24, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned three television adverts for electronic smoking products after receiving over 200 complaints. The ban on these adverts comes only a few weeks after the law was first changed to allow adverts where people use e-smoking products to be shown on television.

E-smoking or “vaping” is billed as a healthier alternative to traditional smoking. Instead of smoke, a vapour is produced which often contains a flavouring. Frequently, this is a tobacco flavouring in order to provide the closest experience possible to smoking. E-liquids, which are used to produce the vapour, are available without nicotine or with various concentrations. As a tool to give up smoking, this allows smokers to enjoy an experience that is very close to smoking a cigarette but lacks many or all of the harmful chemicals contained in tobacco smoke. By using progressively weaker nicotine concentrations, many smokers aim to wean themselves off the experience entirely.

However, e-cigarettes are not entirely uncontroversial. Though they seemingly lack the health risks associated with smoking, they still look and are used much like a traditional cigarette. This has led to concerns that such devices could glamorise or normalise smoking. This has, until recently, meant that the use of such products could not be advertised on TV, and has even led to some places such as Wales considering a ban on the public use of these products.

However, their apparent lack of real health risks and value as a tool to help smokers quit has led electronic smoking devices to get their fair share of praise as well, and since November manufacturers have been allowed to advertise their use on television. However, there are still some strict rules that must be followed. These adverts must not encourage non-smokers to take up electronic smoking, and they must not target young people. Neither must the adverts be seen to promote tobacco use.

The ASA decided that the three banned adverts fell afoul of these rules. One of them, an advert produced for Vape Nation, was claimed to be encouraging non-smokers to use electronic smoking products. The advert featured a man claiming to have taken up e-smoking after quitting cigarettes, rather than as a tool to quit, leading to concerns that the advert would encourage non- and former smokers to try e-smoking.

The other two adverts, both promoting the VIP e-cigarette brand, were held to be glamorising tobacco use. They showed a woman exhaling a cloud of vapour – something which is visually extremely similar to traditional smoking.


US “Pick up Artist” Denied Entry to UK

November 20, 2014 by Kelly No Comments »

Following a large-scale campaign and a petition amassing over 150,000 signatures, the government has decided to bar controversial US “pick up artist” Julien Blanc from entering the UK in order to hold seminars. In his seminars, Blanc teaches men how to seduce and bed women using tactics which many people have lambasted as abusive.

One Liberal Democrat MP who opposed the idea of allowing Blanc and his company Real Social Dynamics to hold seminars in the UK described some of the statements made by Blanc as “sexist and utterly abhorrent.” Lynne Featherstone,  Minister of State for the Home Office and MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, went on to say that “if [blanc] was allowed to perform in the UK I have no doubt that cases of sexual harassment and intimidation would increase.”

Blanc’s controversial teachings encourage men to play on women’s insecurities in order to persuade them into sex. Blanc has also drawn particular attention for one seminar where, talking about “picking up” women in Tokyo he said that white men could “do what they want” and said he was “romping through the street just grabbing girls, just like, head… on the dick.” This was accompanied by a video of him literally grabbing women on the street and pushing their heads towards his groin. There is now a campaign in Japan to keep him from returning, much like that recently seen in the UK.

Perhaps most shockingly of all, Blanc has even advocated intimidation and physical choking as a “seduction” tactic. He has gone so far as to share multiple photographs of himself choking women as part of his “pick up” efforts. This has inspired Twitter users to highlight such photographs, originally shared by Blanc himself, with the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundtheWorld.

In a similar vein, he linked to a chart from his Twitter account that depicted signs of domestic abuse. The chart (pictured right), which was not created by Blanc and was intended to help people identify abusive relationships, included acts of sexual and physical violence along with coercive and threatening behaviour and methods of emotional manipulation, including threats using children. Blanc said that the chart “may as well be a checklist” followed by the hashtag #HowToMakeHerStay.

It is within the Home Secretary’s powers to exclude an individual from the country if allowing them to enter the country would not be “conducive to the public good.” It was on these grounds that the decision was made to deny Blanc a visa to enter the UK and hold his seminars here. This followed similar decisions from other countries such as Australia, as the seminars were intended to form part of an international tour.

On US television station CNN Blanc said “I just want to apologize, you know, to anybody I’ve offended in any way.”


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.”