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.