Sunday Law Review: the week that was 18th to 24th March

The image of the sleek, suited city lawyer or the portly wig-clad barrister, perhaps unfairly, dominate the public perception of the legal profession. Yet the path to such auspicious heights might require putting up with a degree of austerity for trainee lawyers. The most startling aspect of an amendment to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) proposal for ending minimum wage could result in trainee solicitors being paid as little as £2.60 per hour. The move has been condemned by the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) as another step towards making the profession the preserve of the wealthy. The SRA had amended its proposal after receiving advice that trainees would be classed as apprentices within the national minimum wage regulations. The JLD has argued that the classification is most inappropriate because the apprentice wage had been designed for school leavers rather than individuals who might already have completed multiple years of studying, before embarking on a training contract.

Perhaps the most empathetic measure to help the lowly first year trainee wage was offered by a contributor to the Law Society Gazzette, who argued that the seven-figure earning sleek city lawyer should ‘forego the Porsche this year and fund a trainee’s salary instead, thereby safeguarding the heterogeneity of this great profession’.  The consequence of the lowly minimum wage is even more worrying since the latest National Admission Test for Law (LNAT) has revealed an eight percent increase in applicants. LNAT is an entrance requirement to study law at undergraduate level at nine universities - Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, King's College London and UCL.

The steady increase in applicants and graduate numbers has resulted in more students applying for fewer legal jobs. The legal education and training review (LETR) is perhaps the most comprehensive assessment of legal training since the Ormrod report of 1971. It aims to address the training process with particular reference to the need to protect and promote the interests of consumers, and to ensure an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession. LETR is being conducted by the profession’s three main regulators – Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards, under close observation from the Legal Services Board. The discussion so far has been focused on solicitors and barristers, yet, there needs to be more recognition of the other recognised professions, particularly Chartered Legal Executives, the only route to becoming a fully qualified lawyer for those without a degree. The question of where paralegals fit into the regulatory framework also require addressing. LETR could potentially offer the possibility of national assessments at the point of entry to the profession comprising of common training for solicitors and barristers.

LETR could replace the training contract or pupillage system with a more flexible period of ‘supervised practice’ and a new approach to post-qualification continuing professional development focusing on ongoing competence rather than the current system of simply counting how many hours of courses lawyers have been on. However, no amount of restructuring of the training process could really return the profession to its former prosperity until a further five percent of fee earners were removed, according to a report for RBS, a leading banker to law firms. Such a move in England & Wales would constitute the loss of nearly 6,000 solicitor jobs based on the most recent figures, with the Law Society research last year showing 117,862 practising solicitors. The bank estimates this would save around £280m in annual costs for the UK legal profession. RBS argues that cuts to over-capacity is required to return the profession to a more stable financial performance as the industry wrestles with a sustained period of low demand and the impact of new entrants under the Legal Services Act.

The impact of ABS upon conveyancing firms has been such that more than a third is considering the alternative business structure, according to research conducted by Searches UK. The survey of 361 conveyancers also revealed predictions of large scale closures to traditional law firms due to competition. The most notable recent change to have impacted conveyancing had been the introduction of smaller panels by the lending banks such as Lloyds TSB and HSBC. The latter had been particularly criticised for having just 43 firms in its panel. Other major lenders are expected to follow suit. A rise in indemnity insurance premium has also affected the margins. However, the net effect of the removal of smaller High Street firms from the lender panels could severely impact upon consumer choice. While smaller firms could theoretically act for buyers, the need for a separate approved firm to act on behalf of the lending bank increases the final cost to the property buyer.

The campaign group ‘Keep Sunday Special’ has expressed reservations against government plans for Sunday Trading Laws to be suspended on eight weekends during the Olympics and Paralympics. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that Britain should be open for business as millions of visitors visit the country. This would allow for large retailers to trade for more than 6 hours on the eight Sundays. The shopworkers union Usdaw ‘vehemently opposes’ the plan, pointing to the government's own consultation last year, which showed there is no widespread support from either retailers or the general public for change, and citing that ‘deregulation would have a very detrimental impact on the lives of millions of shopworkers’. The Church of England has given a lukewarm response to the plans. While it does not oppose longer opening during the Olympics, and some clergy are even cancelling Sunday services so they do not clash with big sporting events, there is some fear that Sunday trading laws could be permanently scrapped by the back door.

The Law Society has dismissed an extra £20 million in government funding for the not-for-profit advice sector as ‘simply not enough’. Chancellor George Osborne has promised £20 million a year over the next two years but the sum was immediately and widely condemned as being not enough to replace shortfalls left by spending cuts. Justice for All, a coalition of advice agencies including CABx and the Law Centres Federation has recently published a survey of 230 advice organisations, which showed that three quarters were suffering serious funding cuts and one in five fighting for survival. The most alarming news to be revealed by the survey was that more than half were cutting back on services for people with the most complex problems and a third cutting back on the number of volunteers. The legal sector has offered a cautious welcome to the government’s National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NLGS), which aims to increase bank lending to small and medium-sized businesses by guaranteeing £20bn of the banks’ own borrowing. This would allow banks to borrow more cheaply than usual and pass on the savings in the form of interest rates that are one percentage point lower than the norm. Firms with turnovers of up to £50m are eligible for the scheme. Barclays, Santander, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and new market entrant Aldermore have so far signed up to the scheme. One commentator from the consultancy 360 Legal Group called the new scheme ‘not a nirvana to solve all the profession’s ills, but more of the same old story - if a firm was good enough to lend to before the NLGS, then it is good enough to lend to after it.’

Several international stories have been of interest to me this week. 16 year old Amina Filali from Morocco committed suicide after intense pressure from her family and a judge to marry her abuser. The Justice Ministry had originally suggested that Filali was consenting to sex and therefore was not a victim. But her death has prompted outrage over an article in the penal code absolving the perpetrator of the rape of a minor if he marries the victim. In India, a proposed change in law to retrospectively tax capital gains by foreign companies could have a negative impact on investment in the nation. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, struggling to rein in the widest budget deficit among major emerging economies, wants the change to ensure that the government gets additional tax payments that officials say is under litigation. In the US, responding to an international petition, celebrity tweets, and spreading public outrage, the US Justice Department opened an investigation into the shooting of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who escaped arrest. In China, the Justice Ministry has ordered lawyers to swear an oath of allegiance to the Communist party. Lastly, Sri Lanka’s human rights record has been criticised at the UN Human Rights Council for alleged war crimes during the civil war with LTTE.  

My two recommended reading articles from this week are firstly, an analysis of the justice system in Hungary and secondly, what should UK judges say outside of the courtroom. Krisztina Than and Marton Dunai in Reuters Insight discuss how Hungary is implementing potentially illiberal laws that suit the political cause of the ruling conservative party.  Lawrence McNamara, in his Guardian article argues if Lord Neuberger’s recently proposed principles for ‘extra-judicial’ statements go far enough.

Once again, 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 11th to 17th March.

‘The Hobbit’, a Southampton pub came under media glare this week after it was accused of copyright infringement by lawyers representing Saul Zaentz Company (SZC), in California. SZC possesses worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of JRR Tolkien including ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. However, after an intense social media campaign and support from the actor Sir Ian McKellen, who had played Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy, and Stephen Fry who is to appear in the forthcomming film ‘The Hobbit’, SZC has come up with the offer to the pub of a nominal licensing fee of $100 dollars, for useage of the name.

In February, this column had reported that courts in England and Wales ceased to use freelance interpreters from a national register. The government had chosen Applied Language Solutions (ALS) as a single agency solution, to provide interpretors with the promise of a £60 million saving from the annual translation bill. As many of the professional interpreters refused to sign up over a drop in pay and conditions, courts experienced major delays in certain cases. This week, the Justice Minister Crispin Blunt admitted that there had been problems on the eve of a protest by interpretaors outside the Houses of Parliament.

Cost cutting seems to have affected other areas of the justice system too as Michael Fuller, chief inspector of Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), said the cost of lawyers' fees was being put before quality, damaging cases. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) managers had attempted to make savings, which lead to in-house prosecutors having to rely on notes, being unable to anticipate likely questions and being of little use to judges in sentencing hearings. The Sunday Telegraph revealed at the start of the week that civil court cases cost British taxpayers £612 million, paying millions of pounds to fund court costs associated with wealthy overseas businessmen and corporations settling their disputes in London.

An amendment to the Legal Aid bill tabled by Lord McNally last week had raised alarm over removing the recoverability of success fees from claimants launching claims in the next year. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has now confirmed that Jackson reforms would not be applied retrospectively to cases launched before April 2013. A MoJ spokeswoman stated that ‘cases launched on or before 31 March 2013 would allow claimants to recover success fees from losing defendants. After that date the government’s reforms allow for up to 25% of potential damages payments to cover that expense’.

The New Law Journal reported this week that ‘Alternative Business Structure’ (ABS) and ‘Legal Disciplinary Practices’ (LDP) could be the future of legal business as the partnership model becomes less predominant. Recent events such as Quindell Portfolio’s approach to personal injury firm Silverbeck Rymer and Australian firm Slater & Gordon’s takeover of Russell Jones & Walker indicate the potential scale of reform.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will bring together the Competition Commission and the competition functions of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). While acknowledging the improved efficiencies and streamlined processes the reforms should bring, many in the legal community have questioned whether the lower threshold for cartel prosecutions could pose a threat to the UK’s internationally renowned reputation. The CMA should be in place by April 2014 and will have a primary duty to promote effective competition.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has urged indemnity insurers and consumers to work together in improving legal services. As consumer empowerment has seen customers drive change in markets through a shared feedback on services and brands, regulators could also potentially utilise this information to target poorly performing practises. Comparative data could serve as a truly independent reviewer of the quality of service provided by law firms and chambers, ultimately providing consumers with ratings of lawyers. While comparison shopping works in many sectors, it is hard to imagine at the present moment how a lawyer rating system could appease everyone in the profession.

In Scotland, ‘the Land Registration Bill’ would make it an offence to knowingly or recklessly register land under false pretences. The bill is seen as a crackdown on mortgage fraud and money laundering. However, the bill could potentially lead to solicitors being imprisoned for up to two years for genuine mistakes. Mortgage fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £1 billion a year but Scottish ministers have acknowledged that it is difficult to prosecute fraudsters and their accomplices in the legal profession under current laws. A typical mortgage fraud could involve taking out a mortgage under false pretences at an inflated value, perhaps with the help of a corrupt solicitor, and then skip the payments and allow the property to deteriorate. Some fraudsters would buy and sell the same property back to themselves under assumed names several times, at ever inflating prices, until the bank finally forecloses and finds the land or property has been ruined.

A mother of four whose husband had forced her to work in a massage parlour providing sexual services to other men has been jailed for ‘falsely retracting’ rape allegations against her allegedly abusive husband. She was jailed in November 2012 for perverting the course of justice by retracting accusations of repeated rape by her husband. The husband had been originally charged with six counts of rape but the case had to be discontinued when, under extreme duress from the husband and his family, she retracted. She was charged after confessing to the police that the retraction had been false. The Court of Appeal accepted that she was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder at the time, but stated that it could not ‘quash a conviction on a broad, somewhat nebulous basis of unfairness where the conviction, following due process, is in every respect safe’ because the woman was ‘undoubtedly guilty of a serious crime’. The judgment is a bitter blow to the woman, known as Sarah and her legal team. In December, Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, had offered a public apology to Sarah.

The High Court has refused to strike out a legal action brought by Tony Nicklinson, a sufferer from ‘locked-in syndrome’ who wants the law changed to allow someone to end his life without fear of punishment. The Ministry of Justice, in seeking to block Mr Nicklinson’s case, had argued that only Parliament could change the law of murder. Mr Justice Charles has decided otherwise and the case will now be heard in the courts. The moral issue raised by Tony Nicklinson is certainly compound and what the judiciary is being tasked to decide should perhaps be truly addressed once and for all, by the Parliament? 

In the international law news front, a US official has revealed that the soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan had suffered a traumatic brain injury on an earlier tour in Iraq. The army staff sergeant was seriously injured when he was in a vehicle that rolled during a tour of duty in 2010, the official stated. Staff Sgt Robert Bales is held in solitary confinement by the military pending further investigation. In perhaps the most eagerly anticipated verdict in the US, former Rutgers University undergraduate Dharun Ravi, originally from India has been found guilty of hate crime and invasion of privacy. Ravi had used a webcam to secretly film his room-mate’s intimate gay encounters. The case attracted national attention, including comment from President Obama, and prompted anti-bullying measures. In Egypt, 75 football fans are to stand trial in the country’s worst ever event of football violence. In China, the state legislature has approped new laws to limit secret detentions.

My choice of two recommended reading articles from last week are by, Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian, ‘One rule for Jesus, another for Muhammad?’ and John Pilger writing in, ‘The Dirty War on WikiLeaks Is Now Trial by Media in Sweden’. Garton Ash argues that double standard in equality law is the measure of a healthy democracy. The second article’s title describes the theme most accurately requiring no further synopsis from this reviewer.

As ever, 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 4th to 10th March.

March started on a sombre note with news of the tragic death of Glasgow based human rights barrister Paul McBride QC. McBride was on a business trip to Lahore, Pakistan and died in his hotel room of natural causes. This column joins the legal fraternity in paying tribute to the work of Paul McBride.

The government is considering a major a overhaul of rules governing employment tribunals. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly has claimed that the present system weighs heavily on the public purse. Proposals include a fee to be paid by those bringing a case to tribunal, claiming anything from unfair dismissal to sexual discrimination. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has described the plan as ‘chequebook justice’ and fears that the new proposals could be seized upon by unscrupulous employers to ‘discriminate at will’.

Barristers and solicitors are once again at loggerheads over the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) for criminal law specialists. Solicitor bodies are fearful that the use of judicial evaluation in the new scheme to assess the quality of advocates could be unfairly biased towards barristers. The scheme is being designed by a group representing barristers, solicitors and legal executives, and advocates would be assessed against a common set of standards at four levels of experience. Those seeking accreditation to the two higher levels would be required to have their performance assessed by members of the judiciary. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has proposed that the scheme should be amended so that plea-only advocates can do non-trial work at the higher levels without being judicially assessed. The Bar Standards Board (BSB), in response has suggested a two year skills development period, which would include experience in the field of conducting trials, leading to access within the full framework of the scheme. The Law Society states that the ‘overwhelming majority of advocacy work is carried out by its members’. This being the case, the SRA feels that judicial assessment within the scheme ‘should not be used as a device to exclude the demonstrably competent simply because their pattern of practice does not include trial work’. The BSB maintains that judicial evaluation is an essential guarantee for the consumer.

Government proposals contained in the draft defamation bill would require the libel claimants to demonstrate ‘serious harm’ before the case can proceed. This is an alternative to the original requirement of proving ‘serious and substantial harm’. It was felt that a combination of ‘serious’ and ‘substantial’ could cause uncertainty and litigation over possible difference between the terms. In another major change, the common law Reynolds defence of responsible journalism in the public interest would be abolished. The replacement is the statutory defence that the publisher has acted responsibly on matters of public interest. The government agreed with the general view that the new law should set a list of clear factors determining whether a publisher has acted responsibly, however, in denying the possibility of extending the number of factors, particularly, in relation to the resources of the defendant, smaller publishers and organisations could remain unprotected. The government also turned down a request to include a requirement that the publication should be read as a whole, known as ‘statement in context’, rather than focusing primarily on the words complained of.

The Queen’s speech on 9th May is expected to propose extending closed trials beyond terrorism to include civil cases involving inquests, prisons, the police and organised crime. Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary has defended the ‘closed material procedures’, which would allow ministers to defend themselves against damage claims by disclosing sensitive evidence without endangering the national interest or exposing vulnerable sources. Critics of the plans have argued that closed trials would lack transparency, are unfair and serve to build a body of secret case law only accessible to the government and intelligence agencies. The justice and security green paper is aimed at closing down embarrassing public actions brought against the intelligence agencies by former terrorist suspects such as Binyam Mohamed, a British citizen held in Guantánamo Bay, who claimed to have been  tortured while being detained.

The Home Office has announced ‘Clare’s Law’ as a pilot domestic violence disclosure scheme borne out of the campaign by Michael Brown, whose daughter Clare Wood had been brutally murdered by a man who had a record of violent offences. The disclosure scheme would allow individuals the right to ask about a partner's previous convictions. The Home Secretary Theresa May stated that the alarming statistic of two people being killed by their current or former partners each week in England and Wales justifies need for such a scheme. The charity Refuge has worked on a number of high-profile cases where basic police failings have been shown to have contributed to the death of a woman. Refuge has criticised the need for more bureaucratic schemes citing that in the past police had consistently failed to perform the most basic duties towards victims of domestic violence.

A survey commissioned by the Law Society and LexisNexis UK on the eve of International Women’s Day  revealed that gender diversity is still an important commercial issue for law firms. Flexible working was cited as the most influential change that firms could make to allow for more female lawyers to reach positions of seniority. The traditional networking routes to promotion also seem to display an unconscious bias within the profession. Susan Belgrave, an employment barrister appears more positive on diversity. Writing in ‘The Lawyer’, she states, ‘The bar has evolved from the frosty reception that issues of diversity first received to an open embrace that seems genuine in its attempts at inclusiveness, even if sometimes slow in execution’.

The economic downturn has led to a decrease in training contracts and pupillages for students and graduates. The Bar Standards Board is in consultation process for introducing an aptitude test for prospective bar students. The Law Society has criticised the move by arguing that while a test might support the stated aims of improving student experience and raising standards on entry to and exit from the Bar professional training course (BPTC), this appears to provide minor benefits from an expensive additional hurdle, as there is a definite mismatch between students passing the BPTC and available pupillages.

Rank                Name of Firm
19                    LewisSilkin - London
23                    Mishcon de Reya - London
70                    Baker & McKenzie - London
77                    Withers - London
88                    ReedSmith - London
90                    Mills & Reeve - London

In the small company league table, the sole legal representative is DBS Law from Birmingham, coming in at a creditable number 59.

The Chief Legal Ombudsman Adam Sampson has stated in a revealing Guardian Law article that ‘for too long, lawyers have got away with arcane pricing and billing practices’. The arrival of commercial giants such as the Co-op and the prospect of legal services being offered by banks and insurers, law firms capable of adapting their traditional view of the client-lawyer relationship and truly focus on service by treating the client as a customer are likely to prosper. Firms need to create a pricing structure offering clear analysis of the consumer’s costs benefits. If the lawyer can provide a reasonable estimate, clients should be told if costs are nearing the limit and why, with a meaningful breakdown provided to explain the escalation.

On the international front there had been two major stories of interest in the US. Financier and cricket mogul Allen Stanford has been found guilty by a court in Houston, Texas, of running a $7bn Ponzi scheme. Rush Limbaugh, a talk-show host had referred to law student, Sandra Fluke as a ‘slut’ for her testimony to congress over birth control coverage. President Barak Obama has contacted Fluke for her willingness to speak out on a major social issue. Major advertisers are likely to stop sponsoring Limbaugh.

My recommended reading articles from this week come from The Guardian, ‘A Cleaner Conscience: the politics of domestic labour’ and from The Lawyer, ‘2012 QC list shows silk road is not always paved with gold’. The first article offers an insightful analysis of domestic work and the lack of equality offered to the domestic labour workforce. The second article is a sympathetic portrayal of the factors that might deter a barrister from applying for silk.  

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 26th Feb. to 3rd March.

Two further concessions on the Legal Aid bill was announced by the government as February ended. Criticism of the definition of domestic violence in relation to legal aid has instigated a rethink. The government is to bring their definition in line with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) definition. A Ministry of Justice spokesman defined the amendment to the legal aid bill as a measure that would put it ‘beyond doubt that those who have suffered physical, psychological or financial domestic abuse would continue to receive legal aid to help them to resolve any separation disputes over property or child contact’. On medical negligence it would be retained in ‘obstetrics cases which result in severe disability’.

A ‘declaration of intent’ by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) ushered in the launch of its final scheme for regulating advocacy focused alternative business structures (ABS). The board approved a lengthy consultation, which includes details of the entity regulation plans, a new handbook introducing changes to the barristers’ code of conduct, and proposals to allow the conduct of litigation. Subject to meeting ‘outcomes-focused provisions’, barristers would be permitted to share premises or practise in association with non-lawyers, with only an obligation to notify the BSB.

Europa Partners, an investment advisory firm has revealed that six of the biggest law firms in UK could be included in the FTSE100 if they had publicly traded. The rankings are as follows:

1.      Allen & Overy: £2.6 billion ($4.2 billion)
2.      Freshfields: £2.5 billion ($4 billion)
3.      Linklaters: £2.3 billion ($3.7 billion)
4.      Hogan Lovells: £2.2 billion ($3.4 billion)
5.      Clifford Chance: £2.2 billion ($3.4 billion)
6.      DLA Piper: £2.2 billion ($3.4 billion)
7.      Slaughter & May: £990 million ($1.5 billion)
8.      Herbert Smith: £760 million ($1.2 billion)
9.      Ashurst: £560 million ($885 million) Merged with Blake Dawson, Australia on 1st March
10.   Eversheds: £450 million ($711 million)

The Financial Times reported that the valuation of the firms are ‘calculated by deducting costs from a firm’s reported revenue to get notional profit before tax, from which partner compensation is then subtracted. Corporate tax is then applied to get profit after tax. Europa then used a range between 12 and 15 of multiples of earnings that law firms would theoretically trade at, based on ranges seen at public professional services firms’.

As the appointment of 88 new Queen’s Counsels was announced, the Law Society Gazette rued over the lack of solicitors among the successful applicants. Since 2008, only six solicitors have been made QC. Dame Joan Higgins, chair of the QC selection panel, has voiced her concern over the considerable hesitancy on the part of solicitor advocates to apply for silk, even where they may be qualified to do so. Of the successful applicants, 23 were women and 6 of the new silks are from an ethnic minority. One employed advocate has also been appointed.

On the eve of this April’s Council of Europe Summit in Brighton, the government is calling for the European Convention on Human Rights to be substantially rewritten so national courts could wield greater influence. The proposal is to prevent cases reaching the European court if the question is substantially identical to one that a national court has already considered. The UK is seeking an amendment to the human rights convention to enshrine what the Strasbourg court refers to as the margin of appreciation, allowing states a level of discretion in applying the convention.

The phone-hacking scandal that led to the collapse of ‘News of the World’ has claimed perhaps the highest profile resignation. James Murdoch, has stepped down as the executive chairman of News International, owners of the collapsed newspaper. He would however, remain as deputy chief operating officer of parent group News Corporation, run by his father Rupert. A frequent commentator on media practices, Max Mosley, the former chief executive of Formula 1’s governing body and himself the subject of a ‘News of the World’ allegation, wrote in CNN about the need to completely overhaul the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). Mosley proposes ‘two entirely separate bodies, one to make the rules, the other to enforce them. The rule-making body could even emerge from the existing PCC which already has quite a good, but un-enforced code’.

The Royal College of Midwives has welcomed a landmark judgement in an employment tribunal against an NHS trust. Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was ruled to have unlawfully deducted pay. The tribunal unanimously found that the trust was attempting to link sickness to the withholding of incremental progression. It has now been ordered to pay the claimants any money that they have lost out on due to this. Jon Skewes, RCM director of employment relations, said that ‘the test case sends a stark legal warning to the NHS and the government that they cannot take midwives for granted and ride roughshod and trample on the employment contracts and conditions of our members’.

In a separate case involving midwives, in Scotland, two Catholic midwives have lost a legal bid challenging a health board's decision that they were not entitled to refuse to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in abortion procedures. Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood argued that as conscientious objectors, they were entitled to refuse to delegate, supervise and support staff taking part in abortions or providing care to patients during the process. Being required to supervise staff involved in abortions is a violation of their human rights and they took their case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. In a response to the ruling, Neil Addison, Catholic barrister and Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, stated that the ‘case is yet another example of the way in which the UK Courts are interpreting s9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Freedom of Religion) in the most limited and restrictive way possible’.

The debate on abortion is not new. Nor is there any likelihood of it to disappear. Citing the recent online death threats issued by anti-abortionists to two academics, Julian Savulescu, editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, has stated that the intimidation endangered free speech. The academics, Alberto Giubilini from the University of Milan and Monash University in Melbourne and Francesca Minerva from the University of Melbourne and Oxford University, argued in the journal that, as "potential persons", newborn babies, like foetuses, do not have the same moral status as "actual persons".

On the week when a Sunderland football fan was sentenced over racist tweets about rival team Newcastle United, a black professional footballer, Mark McCammon became the first to sue his former employers Gillingham FC. McCammon’s claim centres on less favourable treatment of black players by the club in taking different stances over punishments handed out for missing training, medical treatment for injuries and pay cuts after relegation from League One. The claims would be heard at Ashford employment tribunal in Kent later this year. The club rejects the allegation and refused to comment any further until the tribunal hearing has taken place.

Sunday Law Review’s two recommended reading articles from this week’s publications are by the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams on ‘Human Rights and Religious Faith’,  published in ABC Religion and Ethics, and my very own guest blog published in DietJustice entitled, ‘My view on the London 'riots'. Rowan Williams’ excellent article is a reminder of responsibility on both the secular and the religious factions working on human rights issues, to acknowledge the importance of the final goal. The DietJustice article on last August’s London Riots analyses the philosophical undertones of political comments that attempted to explain the riots.

As ever, 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.