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Couple to Head to Supreme Court in Pursuit of Civil Partnership

An opposite-sex couple who wish to enter into a civil partnership now hope to take the matter to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal ruled against them. Currently, UK law only allows opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

The solicitor representing Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld has confirmed that the couple intends to seek a hearing in the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court. They are seeking a judicial review on the government’s decision that it will not pursue any change to the current law which prevents opposite-sex couples from entering into a civil partnership. After losing their case in the High Court, the couple then proceeded to the Court of Appeal where they again lost their case on 21st February.

Appealing to the Supreme Court will cost the couple a minimum of £20,000, according to a post on the website of the legal firm representing them, Deighton Pierce Glynn. They must submit their application for a hearing by the end of this week.

Louise Whitfield, the solicitor representing the couple, said that it was “very frustrating indeed that my clients lost their appeal by such a narrow margin on such an important issue, particularly when all three judges readily accepted that there had been a potential violation of their human rights.”

Whitfield also said that the government “must act quickly” to deal with an issue “which the court as a whole recognised could not continue indefinitely and which they agreed is ultimately unsustainable.” She said that one of the judges, Lady Justice Arden, had “accepted that time had already run out” for the government to take action, but that “her fellow judges were unfortunately prepared to allow the government a little more time.”

There is currently a bill making its way through parliament which would indeed see the government open up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2015. This bill is due to go before the House of Commons for its second reading next month.

Proponents of civil partnership for opposite-sex couples say that it would enable cohabiting couples to access the same legal benefits as married couples even if they do not wish to actually get married. There are currently few rights and protections for unmarried cohabiting couples in the UK. Others wish both to access these protections and make a statement of commitment, but without the cultural baggage that they feel is attached to the status of marriage.

The government welcomed the Court of Appeal’s ruling on Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal. A spokesperson said that the government would “carefully consider this judgement and will take it into account as we evaluate the take-up of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage.”

Personal Injury Case Leads to Landmark Fixed Fees Ruling

royal-courts-of-justiceA personal injury case that escalated to the Court of Appeal over a matter of fees has resulted in a landmark ruling. The Court of Appeal’s decision has upheld a previous decision that the highest fixed fee level could be applied to cases that are listed for disposal – a decision which, in the opinion of Lord Justice Briggs, is set to have “substantial” consequences.

The case in question, Bird v Acorn, originated when the claimant, Mr Bird, received an injury in 2013 while visiting the premises of the defendant when a dropped tool landed on his hand. He instructed a firm of solicitors to begin a personal injury claim, which was initially lodged through Employer’s Liability/Public Liability portal – a platform used for launching various workplace injury claims and claims for accidents in public spaces.

No response to this initial claim was received, so it was withdrawn from the portal. The following month, the defendant’s insurer admitted liability, so the claimant’s solicitors responded to the insurer with medical evidence of the injury in the hope of reaching an appropriate settlement. However, no agreement was reached and legal proceedings began, with the defendant failing to acknowledge and a default judgement ultimately issued to the defendant.

The case them progressed to Birkenhead County Court where it was finalised after a disposal hearing of ten minutes. However, there was one slight complication regarding fixed costs. Costs had not been agreed beforehand, and therefore the judge was left with the task of choosing which of the predefined fixed cost options should be applied. The judge decided that “column 3,” the highest level of fixed costs at 27.5% of awarded damages plus £3,790, should be applied.

However, the case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, with specific regard to this decision to apply the highest level of fixed costs to the case. The judge described the matter as a “short but important” one. The question at the heart of the matter, he said, was whether a disposal hearing constituted a trial or not. If it did qualify as a trial, then this would mean that higher levels of fixed costs would be recoverable than if the matter had been settled before this point.

The Court of Appeal upheld the original decision to apply the highest band of fixed costs to the case, therefore providing “authoritative guidance… on a question which has generated significant controversy.”

Regarding the scope of the judgement, the judge said: “The difference is, in absolute terms, a modest one but the cumulative effect of its application to numerous cases is substantial.”

Fraud is Most Common Kind of Crime

ComputerRecent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that fraud is the most common category of crime in the UK at present. The data shows that nearly six million instances of fraud and cyber crime were perpetrated across England and Wales in 2015, the majority of which were cases of banking fraud.

The data comes from the ONS’ regular Crime Survey for England and Wales. This is the first time that the survey has included questions related to fraud and misuse of computers. Based on the results of the survey, the ONS estimates that the year to March saw 3.8 million offences classed as fraud and around two million cases of computer misuse. This would mean fraud offences take place more often in England and Wales than any other type of criminal activity.

The most common category of fraud was banking and credit account fraud. This accounted for an estimated 2.5 million cases. This was followed by non-investment fraud, which includes things such as online retail scams. Of the estimated two million offences of computer misuse, most – around 1.4 million – involved the use of a virus to infect the victim’s computer or another internet-capable device in order to facilitate the offence. The other 0.6 million cases of computer misuse fall into the category of “unauthorised access to personal information,” which includes things like hacking in order to obtain a person’s sensitive details.

The number of fraud and computer misuse cases is greater than thought. The ONS previously estimated a figure of around five million based on a “large-scale field trial.”

The data on fraud and cyber crime is separate from other data recently reported by the ONS, which estimates a total of 6.3 million offences against adults in the twelve months leading up to March. This is a decrease of 6% compared to the figures from the previous year’s survey.

As the ONS’ John Flatley points out, the data for fraud and cyber crime suggests that these kinds of crime “are similar in magnitude to the existing headline figures covering all other crime survey offences.” Taken together, the two categories of offence that have been newly added to the survey fall short of matching all other crime by a relatively small 0.5 million offences.

“However,” Flatly continued, “it would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offences.”

Data on fraud and computer misuse was only gathered through the second half of the twelve month period analysed, since the relevant questions were only added to the survey in November. The data for the last half of the year was then scaled up to provide an estimate for how many such offences took place over the full twelve month period.

Mixed Reception for Legal High Ban

Legal HighsThe new nationwide ban on legal highs has come into force, sparking a mixed set of opinions and responses. Some have welcomed the ban as an important step in tackling dangerous substance abuse issues, while others have expressed doubts as to the practicality of enforcing the ban.

Legal highs, also known as “new psychoactive substances,” are chemical substances that are designed to have effects very similar to those of prohibited drugs, but also to be different enough in composition from those drugs to escape existing bans. They are ostensibly sold for purposes other than human ingestion – another step in evading existing drug laws – but when ingested produce a “high” similar to other drugs such as cocaine. Last year, a rise in prison violence was linked to legal highs, and over 100 deaths around the country were believed to involve such substances.

The new law represents a blanket ban on all such substances, effectively closing all the loopholes that the previously slipped through. Bans have previously been enforced on the local level in some areas, but the new law takes effect nationwide. It prohibits production of these substances, as well as selling or otherwise supplying them. It also empowers the police to shut down both online stores and physical “headshops” which sell drug paraphernalia, as well as to carry out searches and to confiscate and destroy any such substances they find.

Many have been delighted by the new law. Notably, those who have campaigned against the use of dangerous psychoactive substances have welcomed the ban. Karen Vandersypen, who began campaigning against legal highs after they led to the death of her son, described herself as “delighted.”

However, there are also doubts about whether it will be feasible to enforce the ban effectively. The new law was originally supposed to take effect last month, with questions about enforcement reportedly being among the reasons for the delay. Now the government has released its “forensic strategy,” methods of testing substances to establish whether they fall within the scope of this law, further doubts have been expressed. A number of lawyers, forensic experts and pharmacologists predicted that enforcing the prohibition on new psychoactive substances would be “fraught with difficulty.”

Critics have also suggested that convictions under the new law would be relatively difficult to obtain. A large part of this difficulty relates to the testing strategy, and difficulties in definitively establishing that a substance produces a high. According to professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), writing in a letter to the Home Secretary: “There is currently no way to define psychoactivity through a biochemical test, therefore there is no guarantee of proving psychoactivity in a court of law.”

UK By-laws May Conflict With European Child Labour Legislation

UK local by-laws relating to children working outside of school hours may contravene European legislation on child labour, it has emerged. According to a report from the European Committee on Social Rights or ECSR, some children in the UK are being allowed to work “excessive” numbers of hours.

UK-wide legislation is in line with EU law on the subject. It allows children to work during term time for a maximum of twelve hours in one week. They may work no more than two hours on a school day or a Sunday, and they cannot start any earlier than 7am nor finish later than 7pm.

However, local by-laws can mean that the rules are effectively different in certain parts of the country, and in some areas the rules are somewhat looser. In a number of areas, children from the age of 13 can work as long as the labour they are engaged in is only “light.” Carrying out a paper round before school – which can commonly begin as early as 6am – is one of the most prominent types of job which falls into this “light work” category and is often given to children.

However, while the ECSR’s report does not dispute that this qualifies as light work, it also finds that it “ceases to be [light] if it is performed for an excessive duration.” Under some local laws, children are being allowed to carry out such work for hours which are indeed, under European law, excessive.

The rules on child labour form part of the European Social Charter – a legally binding document to which all subscribed nations are required to adhere. The ECSR – which is not part of the European Union but rather the Council of Europe – is tasked with monitoring how the charter is applied by each individual country. In the case of children working in some parts of the UK, the ECSR finds, the charter is not being applied correctly at all.

The report says, for instance, that “allowing children aged 15 years, still subject to compulsory education, to deliver newspapers from 6am for up to two hours per day, five days per week before school is not in conformity with the charter.”

It is not just work before school that the ECSR was concerned about, but also work carried out in school holidays. Outside of term time, UK law allows children aged 13-14 years to work up to five hours a day Monday-Saturday and two hours on Sunday up to a maximum of 25 hours per week· 15-16-year-olds may work up to eight hours Monday-Friday and two hours on Sunday, up to a maximum of 35 hours per week.

The ECSR was concerned this, too, could be considered excessive, and said that excessive working hours for children can put “their health, moral welfare or education” at risk. In their report, they suggested that UK children be given one fortnight-long break from all work during school holidays per calendar year.

Police Will be Lenient With new Car Smoking Laws

Car Smoking ChildrenStarting on the 1st of October, long-discussed laws banning people from smoking in cars that contain children will come into force. However, some police have said that they intend to take a lenient and “non-confrontational” stance when it comes to the enforcement of this new law.

It will be illegal for anybody, driver or passenger, to smoke in a car that also contains somebody under the age of 18. If the smoker is a passenger, both this passenger and the driver will be held responsible.

The law was first suggested after extensive research into the serious harm that passive smoking can do to children, especially in enclosed spaces such as vehicles. Police will have the power to stop vehicles and issue warnings or on-the-spot fines if they see somebody breaking these laws. The standard fine will be £50, though paying within two weeks of issue will get this discounted to £30. A conviction in a magistrates court for breaking this law, on the other hand, could see a fine of up to £200 issued.

However, a number of prominent individuals within the nation’s police force have expressed an intention not to be too strict with the enforcement of these new laws. Many have said that they will favour warnings over fines, as they believe this equates to “education not prosecution.”

“As the existing smoke-free law extends to vehicles,” said a spokesperson, “police forces will be following guidance from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health by taking an educational, advisory and non-confrontational approach when enforcing the new legislation.”

The new ban on smoking in vehicles containing children has been welcomed by many because of the very real danger that passive smoking can pose to the help of young people. Others, however, have criticised the new laws over the course of the long discussions involved in bringing it from proposal to enforceable legislation. In many cases, criticism centred not on the intentions of the law but on the idea that it would simply prove impractical to enforce it effectively.

While the police insist that their approach is in line with relevant guidance, others have criticised their stated intention to exercise lenience. Shadow policing minister Jack Dromey suggested that it was less a result of following guidelines and more a result of having to keep costs down in the face of cuts to their budgets.

“The ban on smoking with kids in cars is designed to protect their health and save lives. It is absolutely wrong that Theresa May’s police cuts will put vulnerable children at risk,” Dromey said.

Real Lawyers vs. Online Paper Form Sites – Which is More Efficient?

When the Internet was first coming into its own, Hollywood envisioned our life with computers and data reading as one with lots of tool-style interaction. It was thought computers would end up producing the most amazing food generators, TVs everywhere, microwaves with programmable environments, consumerism at the fingertip and maximum convenience via technology. Instead, the Internet grew into something far more subtle and fundamental in our lives; it became a necessary tool for us to find information regularly and function. The space-age microwaves and toasters didn’t manifest, at least not yet, but the Internet is fast becoming our “everything,” at least in terms of digital reach and information exchange.

The legal field has been no exception to the progress of the digital world. What used to be entirely the domain of working attorneys and law offices with research and face-to-face client meetings has now become a competition between boilerplate digital products people can download and the traditional interaction. Yet, in reality, it’s now “normal” of legal services. For basic legal services, the Internet has quickly become the go-to source for most consumers and small businesses, especially those looking to save money versus paying conventional legal fees. The services involved, of course, are not very complex. They are typically predictable legal tools such as basic wills for estate planning, limited liability corporation establishment, or basic contract and agreement templates. Deeper research and, of course, litigation representation are still safely in the domain of human attorney hands for now.

The above said, a good amount of basic legal fee generation comes from simple form preparation for clients. The litigation world of big cases and big settlements is a bit like winning the lottery. It happens, but definitely not to everyone. Most attorneys spend much of their time just producing documents. And this is where the online world can become a big threat competitively. If a product can be defined by writing, it can also be defined in a template. So far attorneys have been generally protected by the ability to “customize” a legal document or representation, but this is a simply a matter of taking enough input from a client and matching it to appropriate legal output in the form of writing, a call with other parties, or research advice. The digital world has already figured out how to do two of these three functions automatically. The Siri mode on an Apple iPhone is a simple example of verbal input and research-based correct output that is now automated.

The differentiating factor, according to Bloomberg, of a live attorney is experience, an aspect that digital coding and templates can’t duplicate or emulate. And that real experience comes out as skill, being able to think on ones toes about how to apply the law to a situation that keeps changing. That is the true value of a human attorney over the Internet. The digital world will continue to provide packaged services and products, some tailored as much as possible based on predictions of the most likely legal needs. But only a true attorney can adjust on a dime and catch the nuances that often make big differences in the success of a case. So when clients are choosing between downloading the next PDF document from LegalShoot.com or direct advice from the Law Office of Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, Esq., the emphasis of adaptable skill and how it is marketed can tell consumers which one is better for their needs.

Surveillance Legal Challenge Succeeds

A legal challenge mounted by two MPs against state surveillance powers has been upheld by the High Court. The laws in question, the MPs claimed, gave security services and police the right to “spy on citizens” and lacked the safeguards that should such powers should be subject to.

Tom Watson, a candidate for the role of deputy leader of the labour party and David Davis, a former Conservative minister, said that these powers violated the human rights of UK residents. Two judges at the High Court ruled that this was indeed the case, deciding that the legislation allowing such surveillance breached both the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Human Rights Act.

The legislation in question was contained in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act, which was passed last year. This allowed the UK’s security agencies and certain other public bodies to gather and retain information about who suspects are contacting by phone and email. While the content of these communications is not retained, a detailed record is kept of who people are contacting and when. The act was rushed through parliament as a piece of emergency legislation, passing in a matter of days. According to Watson and Davis, this meant there was no time for the act to be properly scrutinised before it was passed.

According to campaign group Liberty, which supported the two MPs in their legal challenge, the act “”It was privately agreed following discussions between the then three main party leaders. It became law within just three days – denying time for proper parliamentary scrutiny, amendment or even debate.”

The court’s ruling that this act is “inconsistent with EU law” has effectively rescinded certain parts of the legislation – though this will not take effect until March next year. The court’s decision comes at a significant time, as there is much discussion surrounding issues of state surveillance. Much of this stems from Theresa May’s controversial proposals, widely nicknamed the “Snoopers’ Charter”, which would allow even more comprehensive gathering of information on how people are communicating and using the internet.

A court challenge to primary legislation by MPs is very unusual, and some have called it entirely unprecedented.

The government has expressed dissatisfaction with the High Court’s ruling and has stated that it intends to appeal against the decision. John Hayes, the Security Minister, said: “The effect of this judgment would be that, in certain cases, communications data that could potentially save lives would only be available to the police and other law enforcement if a communications company had decided to retain it for commercial reasons.”

Founder of Silk Road Receives Life Sentence

Silk RoadA sentence of life imprisonment has been handed down in the US to Ross Ulbricht, founder of black market selling platform Silk Road. The sentence came as a surprise to some degree, since it was even more severe than the one requested by the prosecution.

The Silk Road, which first launched in 2011, existed on what is called “the dark web” – a section of the internet only accessible through anonymous proxied internet connections. While there are also legitimate sites in the dark web, it is also where you will find the bulk of the internet’s illegal activity. Such activities can only practically take place in this anonymous environment, as on the mainstream internet such websites would quickly be shut down and their creators identified by law enforcement.

It was into this category of anonymous, illegal websites that The Silk Road fell. It served as a billion-dollar platform for buying a range of black market goods, predominantly illegal drugs. Ulbricht founded the site and operated it under the pseudonym “the Dread Pirate Roberts” in reference to a character from 1987 comedy film The Princess Bride. As well as illegal drugs, the site also sold fraudulent identity documents and other such items. There is a charge still waiting to be heard in Maryland relating to murder-for-hire services.

Identifying the origins and owners of websites on the dark web is difficult, but as one of the most prominent illegal trading platforms Silk Road received a comparatively large amount of attention from law enforcement bodies internationally. In 2013 US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was able to shut down the website and arrest Ulbricht, who had been successfully identified as the man behind the site.

Judge Katherine Forrest, in handing down the sentence, decided to go beyond even the requests of the prosecution and apply the full force of the law. As well as his sentence of life imprisonment, Ulbricht has been ordered to pay huge restitution payments. This restitution, estimated to be equivalent to the total value of drug and fake ID sales made through Silk Road, amounts to more than US$183 million (roughly £120 million). Sales of assets seized by authorities, predominantly virtual currency bitcoin through which Silk Road received payments, will be used to help meet these payments.

In sentencing Ulbricht, Forrest said: “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its…creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous.”

Ulbricht admitted the charges against him over the course of the trial, but had hoped for a lenient sentence. “I’ve changed. I’m not the man I was when I created Silk Road,” Ulbricht claimed. “I’m a little wiser, a little more mature, and much more humble”

Deportation, Human Rights & Terrorists

When deportation and asylum claims are brought to court, one question often raised is what happens to the asylum seeker upon return if deported?

In many cases, the asylum seeker would face mistreatment, or a risk of serious harm if returned to their country of origin. Such potential harm is for them to prove in court. If there is a significant risk of harm upon return- then a deportation cannot go ahead. It would be illegal, under domestic and EU law, to deport someone to face significant ill treatment. It would further be a breach of their human rights- under both the UK Human Rights Act (1998), and the European Convention on Human Rights. Such a deportation would also be contrary to the spirit and letter of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees.

Prior to any deportation, it is necessary to establish what dangers, if any, the returned asylum seeker would face. What treatment they can expect to receive upon return to their country of origin is an important part of the asylum and immigration legal processes. Aside from detailed investigations, in some cases assurances are often sought from the asylum seeker’s home country as to their personal safety upon return. The recent landmark Supreme Court case of EM (Eritrea) only served to reaffirm that policy- although did not totally clarify what that meant exactly.

Such human rights issues, and assessing the risk of return, give ample scope for extradition proceedings to be long, drawn our matters. Appeal after appeal, even judicial reviews, are not uncommon in immigration law. However, the Home Office has to act in accordance with law, and with respect to the deportee’s rights, as regards such deportations. The case of Abu Qatada, an extremist cleric deported to Jordan in 2013 after an eight year legal battle fought on such human rights grounds, serves to illustrate this. Recently, such principles were again demonstrated in a New York courtroom.

It was such an issue of human rights, and risks if deported to the US, that kept radical firebrand cleric Abu Hamza tied up in litigation for many years in the UK. Wanted in the US for terrorist offences (amongst which concerned setting up a terrorist training camp in Oregon), there were concerns about the conditions he would face if extradited to the US to face trial. Eventually, the legal battles ended- and he was deported to New York.

As part of the legal and extradition agreement, US authorities made assurances to the British government as to Abu Hamza’s prison terms and conditions, prior to his 2012 extradition. After being convicted of an array of terrorist offences in 2014, February 2015 saw the terrorist leader jailed for life in the shadows of the World Trade Centre.

Sentencing the cleric, Judge Katharine Forrest stated that she was handing down a life sentence because she could think of no time when it would ever be safe to release him. Such a sentence was contrary to promises made to the UK- as was his imprisonment in the notorious Colorado supermax prison facility. However, Judge Forrest left the details (such as the place of imprisonment) to federal prison officials. Federal prosecutors had previously stated that there had been no promises made not to send Abu Hamza to a supermax prison, or as regards handing down a life sentence.

Despite that (apparent) breach of the extradition agreement, the news was greeted with a sense of relief from both sides of the Atlantic, politicians, police and victims alike. Although the terms of the deportation may have been breached, the British government did not seem overly indignant- as it has on previous occasions. Home Secretary Teresa May stated in response to the verdict that she was “pleased that Abu Hamza has finally faced justice… His sentence reflects the severity of his crimes and I am pleased he will spend the rest of his life behind bars where he belongs.”

Inevitably, his lawyers will appeal. With Judge Forest’s verdict, however, there is a sense that justice, although greatly overdue, has finally been done.