A number of law firms struck off mortgage lender Abbey’s conveyancing panel have been reinstated, the Law Society said today (1 May). Law firms previously on Abbey’s panel that are in the midst of a transaction involving Abbey, or have pipeline instructions with Abbey, are being restored to the panel following negotiations with Chancery Lane, the Society said. According to the Society, Abbey is contacting firms struck off the panel and asking them to reapply for membership. Meetings between Chancery Lane, Woolwich and Chelsea Building Society are planned, the Society said. In March, Abbey cut the number of law firm offices on its panel from 12,000 to 6,050, provoking dismay from those affected. Abbey later reinstated 244 of 319 firms that had existing or planned instructions. Abbey’s head of customer services, Keith Bowran, wrote to firms on 16 March saying that their panel membership had been revoked because of ‘the low volume of transactions dealt with by your firm’ over the past year. Halifax, Nationwide, Northern Rock and Woolwich told the Gazette at the start of April that they had no plans to reduce the size of their panels in the near future.
Alan Fenton, Director of estates, Her Majesty’s Courts Service Clive Booth wants to know why visitors to court are asked to open their own bags and take out items as part of security checks. This is HMCS policy and is common practice among many organisations. The reasons are simple: it avoids possible injury if a knife or sharp object is in the bag; most people prefer to remove their own items rather than have security guards going through their bags; and it avoids possible accusations of theft, damage, or planting an item. The security guard is the first point of contact with the court and some visitors will be anxious about the experience of going to court. The job of the security guard is to quickly, effectively, subtly and courteously make necessary checks on bags and let the visitor through. They are trained officers doing a difficult job which sometimes exposes them to abuse and physical violence.
Two solicitors have been charged with multiple offences related to a series of high-value commercial mortgage frauds worth around £50m in total. Mark Knights of Cheshire, 45, who worked at Manchester firm Mace & Jones at the time the frauds took place, appeared last Friday at the City of London Magistrates Court alongside Kamran Malik, 31, of Birmingham, who worked at Birmingham firm A&H Solicitors at the time of the frauds. Neither defendant is currently employed by Mace & Jones or A&H Solicitors. Both were charged with three counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception contrary to the Theft Act 1968. The proceedings will be transferred to Southwark Crown Court. Malik’s solicitor Julian Linskill, senior partner of Liverpool firm Linskills, said that Malik will contest the charges. He said: ‘While he has clearly been guilty of relatively minor breaches of regulations, that does not support any finding of criminality against him. He is confident he will be cleared of the allegations.’ Manchester firm Pannone, which is advising Knights, declined to comment. The charges against the pair were brought as part of an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation into the £50m of frauds, which saw six others, including four solicitors, charged in December 2009.
A joint committee of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board has released two consultations on the future of the undergraduate law degree. The first Joint Academic Stage Board (JASB) paper asks for views on whether students who have failed a single foundation subject within 5% of the pass mark should be able to continue their course. The consultation proposes stopping this practice, known as compensation or condonation, and requiring all students to pass all their foundation modules. The second JASB paper examines arrangements for law degrees or conversion courses where a partner organisation collaborates with a UK higher education institution to deliver or assess a qualification. The paper considers overseas and distance learning arrangements and proposes the development of a new set of standards for the collaborative provision of legal education. A spokesman for BPP Law School said: ‘We believe that future lawyers should have a solid understanding of the fundamental principles of English law and do not advocate compensation or condonation, particularly in foundation subjects. On this basis, BPP does not permit compensation or condonation on its law degrees.’ Philip Plowden, dean of Northumbria University’s school of law, said: ’Compensation or condonation is not inherently reprehensible. It recognises situations where an otherwise strong candidate has had a minor lapse in one element of assessment – and recognises that this is a candidate is likely to pass without difficulty upon re-sit. There is little detail at this stage as to the proposed content of any future policy on collaborative agreements. I hope that once the consultation is over, a draft policy is made available for consultation.’ JASB chair professor Gwyneth Pitt said: ‘We welcome comments from all those with an interest in maintaining high standards within legal education.’ The consultations, which close on 10 January 2011, are available on the Bar Standards Board website.
The firm that brought feuding spouses the antithesis of the perfect Christmas present – the ‘divorce voucher’ – has now come up with a new gift idea in time for Valentine’s Day. In a timely coincidence, as the Law Commission published its consultation on whether the law on pre-nuptial agreements should be changed, London firm Lloyd Platt & Co has launched the ‘pre-nup voucher’. The token entitles the lucky recipient to an hour-long consultation exploring the pros and cons of making a contract with their true love about what should happen to their assets in the event their relationship comes a cropper. The firm’s founder, Vanessa Lloyd Platt, assured Obiter that this was not an unromantic gift, but a very loving one to help inform and protect parties before they seal their nuptials and promise to share all that they have with their partner. According to Lloyd Platt, it is not only the very wealthy who are seeking to protect their interests in this way, but also those of more modest means. She says her firm has seen more interest from everyday folk who want to protect the equity in their property, or a settlement from a previous relationship. That’s all well and good, but anyone planning to give a pre-nup voucher on 14 February might be wise to make sure there’s at least a bunch of roses to go with it.
Haroon Rashid, I Will Solicitors, Erdington, Birmingham It was with some optimism when, in September 2010, we learnt that the Office of the Public Guardian was reviewing its panel of deputies after 10 years. The aim, according to the OPG, was to revitalise the panel to ensure that it represented the many different types of vulnerable people who required the OPG to appoint deputies to manage their financial affairs. With over 10 years’ experience of specialising in providing private client services for the Muslim community in particular, we completed an application setting out our unique selling points. Disappointingly, the OPG informed us that we were not selected for the panel. Hoping to learn from the experience, I requested a copy of how the application had been assessed. I then learned to my dismay that the OPG had decided that, rather than reviewing each application, they would cut out all the hard work and knock out all the applications that failed to ‘self-assess’ themselves the highest marks. Essentially, those applicants who said that they were great at everything went through to a final round and were properly reviewed, whereas those who were, let us say, more modest – but could bring real specialism and unique skills to the panel – were eliminated without even a second glance. You would have thought that, given that the whole process took five months and there were only 600 applications to assess, the OPG could have done a better job of reviewing those applications. Maybe next time, alas. Only another decade to wait.
This week home secretary Theresa May made headlines when she accused UK universities of ‘complacency’ on extremism. ‘I don’t think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place,’ May argued, as she announced a process that will see funds cut to, among others, some Islamic student groups. Obligingly for the home secretary, the Daily Mail published a list of 40 English universities where there could be a ‘particular risk’ of radicalisation on campus. Elsewhere, many in the press and public life cited former UCL student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, accused of trying to blow up a transatlantic flight. At one level, it is a nice treat for a cabinet minister to have a pop at universities, full as they can seem to be of academics writing papers proving that government policies are not working. Many governments have been annoyed by universities. After all, they are institutions run with public funds, performing public functions, but that have independent governance and independent foundation, and whose members have an independent voice. Think of Oxford’s infamous 1985 decision to turn down its own alumnus Margaret Thatcher for an honorary doctorate. Most attention has focused on the practicalities of snooping, and on freedom of expression. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that May and her colleagues are focused on using terror and extremism as levers to, at most, control universities more directly, and, at the very least, keep them in their place. To take the latter point first, it is harder for members of a law faculty to criticise proposed legislation curbing civil liberties effectively, if the government can counter that the faculty is harboring tomorrow’s terrorists. It is an earlier statement, from prime minister David Cameron, that leads me to think the government is interested in enhanced control over UK universities. ‘We must stop these groups from reaching people in publicly funded institutions – like universities,’ he said in February. The impression that this is about control is added to by the very low standard for what constitutes ‘what can be happening’ on campuses. To make the list of 20 institutions named by professor Anthony Glees in his 2005 report When Students Turn to Terror, for example, it was sufficient for extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir to have handed out some leaflets – though the leafleters did not actually need to be members of the university. Of course, the government is not going to make all universities and their students agree with it. But there is now an identifiable thread running through government policy, and it is this: the sort of rights that are entrenched, in ways that frustrate the executive’s freedom to direct public policy at will, are being progressively removed. The obligations of councils to provide services, and the matters one might take legal action against public bodies or the NHS for, are prominent on this list. Government has ambitions to shape the purpose and focus of higher education – we have seen that in threats to funding for social science courses. But trying to direct that shape and purpose through self-governing institutions is difficult. Universities, the groups that represent them, and their legal advisers, should watch out for a series of obligations being placed on universities in return for ‘public funding’, failure to comply with which would be a breach that carries sanctions. A duty to monitor and manage extremism and ‘radicalisation’ may or may not be the first of these ‘obligations’, but given the link made here between a duty, public funds, and extreme ideology, the creation of that duty is looking very usable right now
University – Fees – Rate of fees The claimants were students in the lower sixth form who wished to go to university. The Higher Education (Basic Amount) Regulations 2010, SI 2010/3021 and the Higher Education (Higher Amount) Regulations 2010, SI 2010/3020 (together the Regulations) were made pursuant to section 24 of the Higher Education Act 2004 and were due to come into force on 1 September 2012. The Regulations were formulated following an independent review of the funding of higher education and were approved by an affirmative resolution of each House of Parliament. They set the maximum fees chargeable by universities at £6,000 a year under the ‘basic amount’ and £9,000 under the ‘higher amount’. That represented a significant increase from the then current rates. The changes were introduced alongside a package of measures which were designed to provide greater assistance to students from low income backgrounds. The claimants applied for judicial review of the decision, through the Regulations, to allow universities to increase fees up to £9,000 per year. The claimants contended first, that the decision to increase the permitted limit for the basic and higher amounts had been contrary to the right to education conferred by article 2 to the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights; the effect of the particular arrangements was to impose an unjustified restriction on the right of access to higher education so as to constitute a breach of article 2 to the First Protocol. Alternatively, the decision had been contrary to that article when read with article 14 of the Convention due to the disparate impact it would have upon those from disadvantaged social backgrounds (the further argument). Secondly, the claimants contended that the decisions had been reached in breach of the requirements of the public sector equality duties (PSEDs) imposed by the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The defendant secretary of state relied on an interim equality impact Assessment and an Interim Impact Assessment, which he contended had provided a full assessment of the draft regulations laid before parliament and the package of measures, as evidence of compliance with the PSEDs. The application would be dismissed. (1) A restriction would be disproportionate only if it in fact denied an applicant the essence of the right in issue. It would take a very exceptional case indeed before it could be said that the charging of fees of itself, absent discrimination, deprived the right to education of effectiveness at least where loans were made available to those who needed them. The fact that someone might be temperamentally or psychologically disinclined to accept a student loan and enter into debt did not justify the conclusion that the right to higher education of such a person had been effectively denied or unjustifiably restricted (see ,  of the judgment). In the instant case, the restrictions imposed had been a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate objective. As to the further argument, in the circumstances, it would be wrong for the court to find a disparate impact where there was neither an obvious, nor even a strong inference, from the facts. The clear adverse impact which the claimants had had to establish in order for the further submission to get off the ground had not been shown to the satisfaction of the court. In any event, the objective had been a legitimate one and the means of achieving that objective had been justified. The secretary of state had considered that in order to provide the secure funding for the expanding sector of higher education, fees needed to be charged.��He had had regard to the potential impact on the poorer households and had taken a series of steps actively to address that problem. Various other proposals had been considered and cogent reasons had been given for rejecting them. In those circumstances the court could not properly find that the decision had been unjustified (see ,  of the judgment). Ashingdane v United Kingdom  ECHR 8225/78 applied; Sahin v Turkey (Application No 44774/98)  ECHR 44774/98 considered; Ponomaryov v Bulgaria  ECHR 5335/05 considered. (2) The decision maker had to be clear precisely what the equality implications were when he put them in the balance, and he had to recognise the desirability of achieving them, but ultimately it was for him to decide what weight they would be given in the light of all relevant factors (see  of the judgment). In the instant case, whilst the secretary of state had not given the rigorous attention required to the package of measures overall, and to that extent the breach had not been simply technical, the particular decision to fix the fees at the level reflected in the Regulations had been the subject of appropriate analysis. In the circumstances, there had been very substantial compliance in fact, and an adequate analysis of the implications of the fee structure itself on protected groups. Those considerations had reinforced the conclusion that quashing the orders would not be appropriate (see  of the judgment). A declaration would be granted to the effect that the secretary of state had failed fully to carry out his PSEDs before implementing the Regulations. However, the Regulations would not be quashed (see  of the judgment). R (on the application of Elias) v Secretary of State for Defence  All ER (D) 104 (Oct) considered; R (on the application of Brown) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  All ER (D) 208 (Dec) considered; R (on the application of Baker) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  All ER (D) 412 (Feb) considered. Helen Mountfield QC and Professor Aileen McColgan (instructed by Public Interest Lawyers) for the claimants; Jonathan Swift QC and Joanne Clement (instructed by the Treasury solicitor) for the secretary of state. R (on the application of Hurley and another) v Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court (London) (Lord Justice Elias and Mr Justice King): 17 February 2012
One of the more gratifying aspects of the development of the Gazette’s website in the last three years has been the democratisation of comment on our content. Some readers may still not be aware there are comment threads on news stories. Many contributions offer fresh and original insights on the topics to hand, which can usefully be recycled back into our journalism. Long may this continue. Not all, though. As with all open-access, news-led websites that achieve a critical mass of popularity, the site attracts a small minority of ranters (those who type in capital letters being some of the worst); choleric dispensers of personal abuse aimed at those who disagree with their posts; and the frankly paranoid, such as those who appear convinced that Gazette journalists are in receipt of bribes from prominent advertisers. Still – although those posters who do not comply with our T&Cs will quite properly have their submissions declined – that is the nature of the medium. Public discourse has a rough-and-ready quality that would be difficult to temper without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So, if you feel strongly about one or more issues of the day, we want to hear from you.
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