Sunday Law Review: the week that was 19th to 25th February.

For the second week in a row Sunday Law Review starts with a sour note on personal injury (PI). The Association of British Insurers have revealed that legal fees to settle personal injury claims after motor accidents are costing the UK consumers a total of £2.4 million a day. The introduction of a fast track scheme to settle lower value premiums in 2010 had led to significantly quicker compensation payouts, but the fixed costs in the process remain high leading to higher premiums for motorists, businesses, local authorities and the NHS. Expansion is the key to survival for the specialist PI firms as a Legalweek report suggests. In light of legislative changes such as Alternative Business Structure (ABS), referral fee bans and plans to extend the Road Traffic Accident (RTA) fixed cost scheme, law firms would be operating under squeezed margins, where survival depends on the capacity to handle more cases.

As the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed that 33 ABS applications have already been submitted, the Portal Group, a financial services organisation, has submitted its proposal to add a legal practice arm to its portfolio. Goodwin Knight Law, the proposed venture, is initially aimed as a personal injury practice. ABS is set to remain an attractive proposition for external investors as more non-legal businesses are expressing interest in setting up legal wings. A private equity firm, Sovereign Capital has become the latest to outline its intention to invest in law. Having acquired the employment advisory firm Drury PSM last year, Sovereign is said to be looking into the legal sector.

The repercussion of the present fiscal crisis had been a proliferation of payday lenders. The National Debtline, a debt advice charity has revealed numerous cases where moneylenders had acted against the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regulations on causing debtors public embarrassment. Earlier this week, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly announced a major overhaul of the bailiff industry to stamp out rogue practices. The Ministry of Justice would launch a consultation setting out how ethical activity should be enshrined in law so bailiffs can continue to enforce the payment of debts and fines within a set code of conduct.

The legal profession was labelled as socially exclusive in the 2009 government report on Fair Access to Professions. It would appear that family connections do go some way towards getting one’s foot in the door as the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had personally revealed that such connections had secured internships helping to launch his career. Late last year, Whitehall lawyers had expressed concern over employers breaking national minimum wage laws over unpaid interns.

While the question of family connections, social mobility and unpaid internships rage on, the Law Society Gazette has recently stated that ‘work experience is now seen as critical to securing a training contract’. For many in the profession, the first step to starting a legal career had consisted of studying law at university. Yet, David Allen Green, perhaps the most famous UK legal blogger has questioned the need for a law degree. “A law degree can even be worse than useless. For the wannabe criminal lawyer, a law degree hides the fact that almost all cases will depend on the evidence and points of procedure, and not on what is said in Clarkson and Keating.” While Green’s views are not universal, this column is pleased to note the Legalweek report on the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer teaming up with University College London (UCL) to launch a bursary scheme for law students. The scheme would sponsor two law students from less privileged backgrounds to receive £10,000, in addition to work experience and a guaranteed training contract interview with the firm.

The family law arbitration scheme has been launched by the newly-formed Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) to resolve family disputes over finance or property. The panel of arbitrators consist of retired judges and experienced family practitioners from across the country. The non-profit organisation has been created by family lawyers’ group Resolution, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and the Family Law Bar Association, in association with the Centre for Child and Family Law Reform. Nigel Shepherd, one of the arbitrators had said that ‘arbitration is more flexible and faster than getting a decision from the courts.’ IFLA chairman, Lord Falconer added that ‘at a time when there is a need to find solutions in family disputes outside the courtroom, it is a logical next step to offer arbitration as another means of doing so.’ Carl Gardener writing in Guardian Law on this issue makes a very interesting point about the possibility of religious bodies to set up similar schemes and cited the example of the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal deciding commercial disputes according to Islamic Sharia law. Although he does concede that those concerned with religious threats to equality under the law may feel differently.

In a landmark decision Mr Justice Teare has permitted the use of Facebook, the social networking site to be used to serve legal claims in commercial cases. The Lawyer reports that the law firm Stephenson Harwood requested permission to serve the claim via Facebook. Clyde & Co and Memery Crystal are the other advisory firms. A High Court judge had previously allowed Twitter to be used where the defendant could only be located through his Twitter handle name. Facebook has been widely used to serve claims in Australia and New Zealand, and had been used a handful of times in Britain. However, this would be the first use of such a medium in commercial cases.

A limiting order had been granted to a landlord whose property is rented by relatives of Abu Qatada. Intense and very intrusive media scrutiny had led to seeking such an order. High Court judge Mrs Justice Dobbs made an order preventing publication of the landlord's name earlier in February, after a lawyer made an application by telephone. After a High Court hearing, Mr Justice Tugendhat has now ruled that the order should continue. Christopher Tappin, who has been extradited to the US had cited cases such as Qatada in claiming that he had fewer rights than a terrorist. The retired businessman is wanted in the US for allegedly selling batteries for Iranian missiles. Tappin was being flown from Heathrow Airport to El Paso, Texas, escorted by US marshals. The Prime Minister David Cameron has hinted that the cabinet battle over the controversial UK-US treaty, which underpins the extraditions such as Christopher Tappin, is no academic matter. In the next fortnight or so the Supreme Court would be deciding whether Wikileaks' founder Julian Assange should be sent to Sweden on a European arrest warrant. While in the next few months, the home secretary, Theresa May, will make a final decision on the medical evidence as to whether Gary McKinnon, the computer hacker with Asperger's syndrome, should be sent to stand trial in the US.

This column has noted a distinct rise in litigious clashes between the sacred and the secular. A Christian care worker has lost her employment tribunal case against Merton Council. Celestina Mba had claimed that she was forced to leave her job as a result of being forced to work on Sundays, an act of intolerance towards her Christian faith. The council successfully argued its case of the need to provide care for children over the weekend. The Christian Legal Centre (CLC) has said it will consider appealing against the tribunal decision. After the High Court declared a Devon council’s prayers prior to meetings illegal, the government has decided to activate the Localism Act, which would allow councils to hold such meetings. Earlier in February, the Court of Appeal upheld a Judge’s ruling that a devoutly Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, had discriminated against Martin Hall and Steven Preddy on grounds of sexual orientation when they refused them a double-bedded room at their hotel near Penzance. For many years, Mr and Mrs Bull had restricted the use of double-bedded rooms at their hotel to married couples. The clash between the Church and state is likely to continue as a government minister Lynne Featherstone stated that the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages as a change for the better. The comments came as a response to the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey’s claim that the ‘Church owned marriage’.

In light of the Apple iPad sale ban case being suspended and the courts favouring Apple in the Motorole slide-to-unlock patent suit, my two recommended articles for the week are on law and the large technology firms. The first article, ‘Judge may postpone Oracle-Google trial in light of patent re-examinations’ is from the blogsite FOSS Patents. The second is James. B Stewart’s article ‘Confronting a law of limits’, published in the New York Times, analysing the rise of Apple as an organisation and what such rises represents.

In the international law front, two potentially lucrative markets is about to be opened up to foreign law firms. The Indian High Court has ruled that International law firms should not be prevented from visiting India to advise local clients on foreign law. Singapore is also planning to open up its legal market by allowing overseas firms to take stakes in local law practices and share profits.

I thank the legal representatives, journalists, web editors and publications I have cited, and linked, for allowing me to compose this week’s Sunday Law Review. Readers are welcome to highlight any critical omissions, offer factual corrections or discuss the issues raised in my review.


Sunday Law Review: the week that was 12th – 18th February.

A gathering of interested parties to discuss insurance hardly seems like the most eagerly awaited appointment of the week, yet the outcome of a high-profile Downing Street insurance summit appears to have put paid to any hopes among claimant lawyers over any compromise to be reached on Jackson reforms. This is particularly grave news for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) who had made its final attempt to challenge the reforms by setting out a new negotiating position that drops outright opposition to the changes. A recent report published by Deloitte suggests that personal injury firms could become takeover targets as claims managers and brokers prepare for the referral fee ban. In its latest insurance market update, Deloitte stated that the alternative business structure era had come at the perfect time for companies needing a legal arm to circumvent the ban. This column notes that at least one enterprising firm has engaged in an innovative, albeit legitimate marketing offer of Apple iPads, shopping vouchers or a cash alternative to file claims. The cash is to be deducted from the compensation the personal injury claimant would receive.

HM Courts and Tribunal service has unveiled plans for a secure ‘drop box’ that would replace the present counters manned by staff to deposit sensitive papers and payments. Court staff is anticipating widespread chaos when the new system takes effect in April. Court opening hours would also be reduced. The changes were part of plans first mooted in 2008 as part of the Framework for the Provision of Front Office Services in the Civil Courts white paper.

Courts in England and Wales had recently ceased to use freelance interpreters from a national register. Now, interpreters are provided by a single agency, Applied Language Solutions (ALS), which has promised to cut the annual £60m translation bill by a third. However, the new service had not been without complications. In one instance, a suspect charged with perverting the course of justice was told they are accused of being a pervert and in another it was explained that being charged means they have to give the police money. In addition to this, a failure to supply the courts with interpreters at short notice has resulted in the courts being told to hire their own interpreters. The ALS scheme had only been in place for two weeks.

The previous week’s Sunday Law Review mentioned an impending ministerial visit to Jordan for talks on Abu Qatada. Home Office minister James Brokenshire has visited Jordan for talks with Jordan's Minister for Legislative Affairs, Ayman Odeh. After initial discussions, Odeh has assured that Qatada would not be tortured if he returned to stand trial in Jordan. Home Secretary Theresa May would also travel to Jordan to continue the talks. The home secretary is to seek a definite commitment from the Jordanian authorities that the prosecutors would not use evidence obtained by torture in any retrial. Qatada was convicted in 1999 in his absence of conspiracy to carry out bomb attacks. The radical preacher was released on bail following a European court of human rights (ECHR) ruling. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has also voiced his concern about European rulings by insisting that British courts are best placed to understand British problems and that the ECHR was never intended to be an appeal court for routine cases.

Two promising youth initiates have been launched in the week when anti-gang police made more than 500 arrests in a three-day blitz on London's crime network. In London, the charity ‘Just For Kids’ (JFK) Law has teamed up with law firm Hodge Jones and Allen's criminal defence team. The initiative would look at issues such as exclusion from school, unstable housing, and mental health problems, which have an impact on youths after the court case has ended, and could lead to re-offending in future. In Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford has launched a new guide to restorative justice for young people. Restorative justice challenges the behaviour of young offenders, offers them constructive opportunities to make amends, and most importantly gives a voice to victims. However its principles are not confined to the criminal justice sector and can be applied in dispute resolution in other areas such as schools. Copies of the guide are being distributed as a teaching aid to schools and youth clubs throughout Northern Ireland and the Youth Justice Agency will conduct information seminars in schools to further explore opportunities for promoting a restorative approach to resolving disputes.

Skills for Justice, a non-profit agency is to launch a project to develop paralegal apprenticeships. It aims to build on existing good practice in creating a nationally recognised qualification and expects to have a framework in place for paralegals working in public prosecution by April 2012, and for the commercial sector by summer 2013. The agency has enlisted the help of 17 law firms, including Gordons, Kennedys, Eversheds and DWF in this endeavour. The framework would create more jobs for young people and provide a benchmark of quality through recognised paralegal apprenticeships with the ultimate aim of assisting the legal profession in opening up access to employment in legal services.

Rupert Murdoch faced fresh crisis as key Sun staff were arrested in a police corruption probe amid speculation over the future of the newspaper. The journalists are preparing to launch a legal challenge to the News Corporation unit that disclosed confidential sources to the police, leading to the arrest of nine of the paper's current and former staff. The National Union of Journalists had been contacted by the Sun employees and former employees with a view to hiring the leading human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC, to question the legality of parent company News Corporation’s management and standards committee. Perhaps in anticipation, Rupert Murdoch had put his senior lawyer on to News Corporation’s internal affairs committee as the media group comes increasingly under fire. Gerson Zweifach’s addition to the management and standards committee could be interpreted as an attempt to galvanise the body.

A mental welfare watchdog has requested the Law Society of Scotland to look into guidance surrounding power of attorney laws. The call comes after a Mental Welfare Commission investigation uncovered the abuse of a couple with learning difficulties by a family member. A couple had granted power of attorney to a relative who then ran up a £10,000 debt in their name. Around 40,000 applications for power of attorney are granted each year in Scotland.

Equality Commission chief Trevor Phillips has courted controversy by arguing that Roman Catholic adoption agencies and other faith groups providing public services must choose between their religion and obeying the law when their beliefs conflict with the will of the state. Phillips’ comments seem to be in sharp contrast to the sentiment expressed by cabinet minister Baroness Warsi during her trip to the Vatican. Warsi announced that ‘to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages’. She defined the dilution as a threat from the rising tide of ‘militant secularisation’ reminiscent of ‘totalitarian regimes’. The boundaries between secular law and the sacred law seems to have been sharply defined just this week in Italy when, after several years of scandal in which the Catholic Church had faced allegations of financial impropriety, the Vatican is now facing a new €600 million a year tax bill as Rome seeks to head off European Commission censure over controversial property tax breaks enjoyed by the Church.

On the international news and human rights front several stories had caught my attention. The International Campaign for Tibet has reported the tragic self-immolation of an 18 year old nun from the Aba prefecture in Sichuan province as a protest against Chinese occupation.    After years of complaints and workers' suicides in China the technology giant Apple has finally admitted to the human cost of its gadgets, and agreed to allow independent inspections of its supply chain. The Centre for Economic and Social Rights claims that Ireland had disregarded its commitments under international human rights law in its implementation of the spending cuts and structural reforms attached to its €70bn European Union and International Monetary Fund loan.

This weeks two recommended reading articles are ‘Democracy for all? Minority rights and democratisation’ by Mark Salter and Catherine Bowman’s Cracking the Chinese market: What do solicitors need to know about acting for Chinese clients? Salter’s article from Open Democracy is about ‘the challenge of accommodating and promoting the rights of ethnic, religious minorities when a formerly authoritarian country begins to move towards democracy.’ Bowman’s article from the Law Society Gazette alludes to the ‘huge potential for London’s financial sector, and the associated opportunities for lawyers’ in China.

As ever, I thank the legal professionals, journalists, web editors and publications I have cited, and linked to for allowing me to compose this week’s Sunday Law Review. Readers are welcome to highlight any critical omissions, offer factual corrections or discuss the issues raised in my review.


Sunday Law Review: the week that was 5th – 11th February.

In the week that saw comedian Stephen Fry question the role of social media in the wake of the Paul Chambers Twitter joke trial, in which Chambers had joked about blowing up an airport, the highest judicial court in Britain registered a Twitter account. @UKSupremeCourt would be maintained by the court's communications team, with the promise of 2-3 tweets each week on cases and corporate announcements. The Supreme Court’s official Twitter policy states that while welcoming communication from followers, the court would not respond to individual messages. Sensing an air of modernisation, three of the UK's biggest news providers have written to the Prime Minister urging legislation to overturn the ban on cameras in courtrooms to be included in this year's Queen's Speech. One would assume that producers of reality television are already pondering on titles such as ‘The only court is in Europe’.

The generational separation in social media is a worrying trend particularly among senior partners in law firms. A sense of fear persists over improper use and the potential impact upon cases. Yet, if carefully harnessed, social media presence can play a potent role in enhancing professional reputation and improve corporate identity. Last week’s Sunday Law Review had mentioned the impending racism trial of footballer John Terry, this week the Attorney General had to carefully consider the Twitter outburst of another footballer, Joey Barton. Barton made his views on the Terry case in a series of robust tweets. The fact that the trial would be held at a magistrates court, whose justices and district judges are regarded as harder to influence than a jury, might have saved him an appearance in the dock himself. In the other prominent trial involving a football personality, Harry Redknapp walked out of Southwark crown court a free man, having been found innocent of two counts of tax evasion. HM Revenues and customs have denied initial rumours that the investigations had cost close to £8 million, putting the figure close to £1.3 million.

Barristers’ Working Lives, the first of a series of biennial surveys by the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board has revealed that more than half of barristers under the age of 30 are women. The Bar Council claimed that the results demonstrate a profession more diverse now than ever. Two-thirds of self-employed barristers and half of the employed Bar would also consider working in an alternative business structure. What is even more encouraging for the profession is that of the 3,000 barristers who took part in the research, nearly three-quarters said they would opt for the same career again, given the choice. One of the most interesting articles of the week was by Julian Young, a senior partner at a law firm. He summarised the subject of fusion between the two main legal professions: solicitors and counsel. The bar and the solicitor advocates have been almost at each others' throats for almost a year. Young concluded that ‘if solicitor advocates and barristers undertake the same work, an amalgamation of the professions would save money and improve standards for both types of advocates.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel compared various comparison and have declared that such websites could help to improve access to legal advice and stimulate greater competition on price and quality grounds, however, the sites should also commit to a set of voluntary standards to ensure legal service consumers are protected. The panel surveyed 16 comparison websites looking to make a will and to arrange conveyancing, and warned that the consumer might make poor choices if there is insufficient information or over-reliance on price. The report stated that regulators can help by ensuring access to professional registers, giving information such as lawyers’ contact details and areas of speciality. What appears to be more worrying for the profession is that law firms have been ignoring leads that came through such comparison websites and overwhelmingly failing to follow up referrals for basic legal work.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has raised the small claims limit in county court. The limit is to be doubled to £10,000 as part of measures to speed up civil litigation. The limit on small claims may also be raised further to £15,000 subject to evaluation. Clarke plans to divert up to 80,000 more cases to a small claims mediation process that can be carried out over the telephone. A single county court system would be introduced and all claims will be handled electronically at centralised business centres, then allocated across neighbouring courts according to demand. This would leave the High Court to deal only with complex cases. The level below which non-personal injury claims cannot be heard in the High Court will be raised from £25,000 to £100,000. Equity cases will only be taken to the High Court where the property is valued at £350,000. The web-based portal scheme is to be extended and would now apply to employer and public liability personal injury cases, and road traffic accident cases worth up to £25,000. The plans have attracted criticism from claimant and defendant lawyers as well as costs specialists, but should be welcomed by the insurance industry.

A further compromise has been promised by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly on legal aid for children in medical negligence cases and the definition of domestic violence. While ruling out any concessions on the bill’s drastic cuts, the minister has told the Westminster Legal Policy Forum that there was no question of allowing recoverability of success fees in medical negligence cases.

Abu Qatada’s deportation case has generated many column inches and its implication is far reaching. Qatada’s lawyer had argued that he should be freed from jail because he has been held for too long. Home Office lawyers oppose attempts to bail him while he fights deportation. A Home Office minister is to fly to Jordan in order to gain assurances that would enable the radical cleric to stand trial in Jordan. Abu Qatada had been described as the most senior al-Qa’ida operative in Europe. In a separate case, nine members of an al-Qa'ida-inspired terror group that plotted to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp have been jailed. Three of the extremists, who planned to raise funds for the camp in Pakistan and recruit Britons to attend it, received indeterminate sentences for public protection at London's Woolwich Crown Court.

Ministers have decided against granting grandparents guaranteed access following divorce because of fears that the move could clog the courts with hundreds of new cases. But, in an attempt to give divorced fathers improved access, the Government would rewrite the law to give children a legal right to have a proper relationship with both parents. Other related reforms include a six-month time limit for care and adoption cases in the courts, although the Justice Ministry insisted that flexibility would remain to ensure a time extension for complex cases where this was in the child's interest.

An independent parliamentary inquiry has concluded that the law to protect stalking victims must be fundamentally reformed. Stalking is not currently a specific offence under English law and is dealt under harassment legislation. Support for a new law in England and Wales had been growing and the Prime Minister had already conceded that there is a gap in the current protection for stalking victims, while Home Office ministers Theresa May and Lynne Featherstone are understood to be sympathetic to demands for new legislation.

In the week that Mr Justice Ouseley issued a declaration that there was no ‘lawful’ place for prayer during formal proceedings such as a council meeting, the former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey criticised the move as a gradual marginalisation of the Christian faith. A most interesting article published in ‘The Lawyer’ questioned even the need for religious oaths in secular cases.

On the international law front, in the US, California's ban on same-sex marriages has been declared unconstitutional by a San Francisco appeals court, Georgia’s highest court has concluded that a state law restricting assisted suicides violated free speech rights, and lastly, in Texas, a district judge declined to stop a new sonogram law from taking effect in a ruling that criticised the Texas Legislature, and its attempts to discourage women from seeking abortions. In Pakistan, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal over contempt charges against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to pursue corruption investigations of President Asif Ali Zardari, escalating a tense standoff between the judiciary and the government. In Spain, the Supreme Court has found Judge Baltasar Garzón guilty of misapplying the country’s wiretap law and suspended him from the courts for 11 years. Judge Garzón had played an important role in Spain’s transition to democracy and had been a powerful champion of international human rights law.

My recommended articles for this week are firstly, a New York Times editorial on ‘Politics and the Supreme Court’ focusing on how the court underscored its power to shape American life by taking on major cases about the health care reform law, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and the Voting Rights Act in an election year. The second article is from an Indian publication that comments on the potentially lucrative Indian legal field, ‘Foreign Law Firms Entering the Indian Market - More Pros Than Cons’.

I thank the legal professionals, journalists, web editors and publications I have cited, and linked to for allowing me to compose this week’s Sunday Law Review. Readers are welcome to highlight any critical omissions, offer factual corrections or discuss the issues raised in my review.


Sunday Law Review: the week that was 29th Jan. – 4th February.

As I braced for the snow to finally arrive, the week started with some welcome news for the legal community. The Jackson reforms and the referral fee ban had been pushed back to April 2013. The reform was originally scheduled to take effect in October 2012. The government had already pushed back implementation of part 1, dealing with legal aid reform, to April 2013. As the House of Lords began scrutinising part 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO), which contains the provisions, the timetable was deemed to be too tight for implementation within the earlier deadline.

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), one of the regulators to enforce the ban on referral fees has called on the government to provide more clarity over referral fee ban. The previous week’s Sunday Law Review reported on the government’s plan to abandon means testing police station advice. This week, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly hinted further concessions. The minister stated that he was uncertain about the precise costs and benefits of the reforms.

The government reform of the ‘no win no fee’ system aims to ensure that legal costs for reasonable compensation claims could be more proportionate and avoidable claims would be deterred from going to court. The criminal compensation payments to victims with minor injuries would see a major overhaul. Victims who would have received payments of £2,000 or less from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme would not receive any damages under the reform. While awards of £11,000 and above would not change, those who would have received £2,500 would now be awarded £1,000, and those who would have got £5,500 would receive £3,500. Victims with unspent criminal convictions would also lose the right to claim.

The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke is dramatically shortening the period during which offenders are obliged to tell potential employers about their criminal record. The radical reform of the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act would see the time after which the convictions of medium term prisoners are ‘spent’ reduced from ten years to four. The convictions of short term prisoners, serving sentences up to six months, would be spent after two years instead of the current seven. The proposed reform would also affect people who have recently been fined or ordered to serve community sentences. They would no longer have to declare their criminal record after one year instead of the current five. The changes will raise the threshold for prison sentences that are never spent from two and half years to four, on the basis that sentence lengths are much longer now than when the period was fixed in 1974.

The use of secret evidence in civil cases could render some claims untriable, according to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC. Anderson was giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Justice and Security Green Paper last week and spoke of the impact on civil justice of closed material procedure (CMP), under which sensitive evidence can be excluded. The Green Paper proposes legislation to make CMP more widely available in civil proceedings. Where highly sensitive material is central to the viability of the case, the claim is either struck out or the parties are forced to settle. Anderson added that neither of these outcomes is desirable.

The way deaths in police custody are investigated is to be reviewed to improve public confidence in the system. The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it would be looking into its ‘powers, resources and approach’ when examining cases in which a member of the public dies during or after contact with the police. Official figures on how many people had died in police custody may have been understated, following a series of Freedom of Information requests in recent months by the news media.

New legal rights enabling children access to both parents is being signalled by the government. David Norgrove, who had chaired the Family Justice Review, last year rejected the need for any legal statement of rights, which risked ‘confusion, misinterpretation and false expectations’. However, the new decision by the government reflects the child’s need for an ongoing relationship with both parents. Divorced and separated fathers will get stronger rights to see their children.

David Lammy, a former Education Minister and incumbent MP for Tottenham has criticised legislation surrounding the smacking of children. Working-class parents are finding it difficult to instil discipline in their homes fearing prosecution. Lammy had blamed a 2004 Labour government decision to tighten up the smacking law as being partially responsible for last summer’s London riots.

Lord Justice Lewison, president of the Court of Appeal Civil Division, has called for a change in the law on deathbed wills after an eight-year legal wrangle over whether a dying man’s sister offered him a ‘steadying hand’ as he signed all his possessions over to her. The judge described the matter as a ‘troubling case’ and called for Parliament to act to resolve uncertainty over so-called ‘guided hand’ signatures dating back to the drafting of the Wills Act of 1837. Martin Lavin had changed his will in favour of his sister, Anne Liston, a few hours before his death at the age of 69 in 2004. He had apparently signed a handwritten will, drawn up by Mrs Liston’s daughter, a former legal secretary, at his hospital bedside, with two nurses acting as witnesses. However, Court of Appeal judges have agreed that Mrs Liston had ‘stepped in’ and signed the document herself as her brother was too weak to hold a pen.

Several high profile cases have dominated headlines during the first week in February. The Supreme Court has heard two days of dense legal arguments relating to Sweden's attempts to extradite Julian Assange to face accusations of rape and sexual assault, which he denies. The justices will now consider their verdict, which will be handed down within weeks. Assange's appeal revolves around whether a prosecutor has the right to request an extradition under the terms of the ‘European Arrest Warrant’ and the Extradition Act 2003 that incorporates it into British law. Amidst accusations of perverting the course of justice, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne finally resigned from the cabinet fiercely protesting his innocence and pledged to fight the charge of using his former wife’s name to escape speeding penalty points. Attorney General Dominic Grieve has refused to review Stephen Lawrence killers’ sentences stating that the sentences will not be referred to the Court of Appeal for a decision on whether they are unduly lenient because the minimum terms are within the appropriate range of sentences.

This week witnessed Egypt’s worst ever football violence leading to the untimely death of 73 supporters. In the tax evasion trial of football manager Harry Redknapp and his former chairman Milan Mandaric, the court was told of the emotionally ‘fractious’ yet ‘tempestuous’ relationship that existed between the two men. John Terry continues to protest his innocence against charges of racism towards fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand. On Friday, the Football Association’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy due to his racism court trial seemed to echo a statement by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, who claimed that racism and xenophobia are on the rise in Europe amid the current economic crisis.

On the international front I have been closely following the trial of Judge Baltasar Garzon. The supreme court in Spain has refused a request to throw out a case against the judge accused of overstepping his authority. Spain's most famous judge is testifying at his own trial for ordering an inquiry into mass killings by forces loyal to former dictator General Franco. In US, lawmakers are looking at expanding the scope for Colorado's ‘Make My Day’ law, which allows citizens to use deadly force to protect themselves in their homes without being prosecuted. The extention relates to right of the citizen to protect oneslf against deadly force in their businesses and automobiles. Finally, in India the trial court dismissed a petition against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram in the 2G mobile spectrum case.

On the human right’s front two articles made fascinating read -
The Times of India’s ‘Concept of human rights is not of European origin’ and Danny Schechter on ‘Property Rights and Human Rights Are Still at War - Rousseau’s Social Contract addressed a problem still with us.’

As ever, I thank the legal professionals, journalists, web editors and publications I have cited, and linked to for allowing me to compose this week’s Sunday Law Review. Readers are welcome to highlight any critical omissions, offer factual corrections or discuss the issues raised in my review.