Edward Fennell’s LEGAL DIARY

Diary news plus insights, commentary and appointments from the legal world

1 December 2023

London lawyers still serve the globe

There were twenty-eight categories at this week’s British Legal Award. With one or two exceptions those who walked off with the titles were the ‘usual suspects’ – and very well deserved too, no doubt.

However, as it was intended to do, the award that stood out was for the ‘Unsung Hero’, the winner of which was Dr. Ademola Bamgbose (above) , a senior associate in the international arbitration, construction and engineering group at Hogan Lovells. He is described as a key member of the firm’s global Africa practice, and is admitted to practice in Nigeria as well as in England and Wales.

Dr. Bamgbose is also an embodiment of how and why London can maintain its position as a global commercial centre, keeping up with the likes of New York. It also sheds a light on the great immigration debate. If the UK wants to continue to be a world leader then, maybe, it has to welcome the world.

The LegalDiarist

In This Week’s Edition

New President Aims to FOIL Risks

Private Client Rep is passionate about the Law Society

Lost property in the Conveyancing Market

Perfect for COP Week

Another Geordie Comes South

+ The Wrong Type of Armed Combat: Sexual Harassment in the Armed Forces by Danielle Vincent and Alan Collins

+ The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement: Are there hopeful signs in the fight against the pension surplus problem? by Rosalind Connor and Riccardo Bruno

on the Online Fraud Charter

at Allen & Overy and Serle Court

New President Aims to FOIL Risks

The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) has a new President. Pete Allchorne (above), a DAC Beachcroft partner, has just been elected to the role having previously chaired FOIL’s Motor SFT.

The insurance business has been going through a tricky period recently with events on the world stage – notably in Ukraine and the Middle East – throwing an exceptional curve ball at an industry which prefers to live with the predictable (but is always prepared for the worst). Allchorne’s own professional interests are primarily in civil justice reform, the legal and regulatory issues impacting the future of road transport and the impacts of digitisation of the sector.    “Pete’s appointment comes at a time when FOIL needs to offer thought leadership more than ever, helping insurers and insurance lawyers adapt to a fast changing environment, providing a sounding board to its members and campaigning for change,” said the official announcement. 

I am delighted to be appointed as president of FOIL, and am looking forward to taking the lead in supporting our members and their clients in such challenging times for the sector,“ said Allchorne. “Insurance lawyers have been witness to and significantly impacted by a series of legal, socio-political and financial challenges in 2023 – and there’s more to come in 2024. As president, working collaboratively with other industry stakeholders and organisations, I intend to ensure FOIL continues to provide a leading voice on issues that are affecting insurance lawyers, so they are prepared for the challenges they face in the year ahead.” 

Yes, life sure is one big risk.

Private Client Rep is passionate about the Law Society

Another lawyer taking on a key role in the wider legal landscape is Elizabeth Gibbison, an associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell’s office in Newcastle, who has just been has been appointed Chair of the Law Society’s Private Client Solicitors Section Advisory Committee which is described as ‘an inclusive and informative community for private client practitioners’ enabling them to share best practice with peers.

Gibbison herself specialises in non-contentious private client work with a particular focus on succession planning for high net worth clients. Commenting that the work of the Committee is ‘very much a team effort’ she observed, “Being a part of this group of industry experts helps us all, and the section’s members, to continue to be at the forefront of best practice in the private client area. I am passionate about the work of The Law Society and I look forward to seeing what we can do as a committee in the coming years to uphold the excellent standards of practitioners in this field.”

Sounds as if it is in safe hands.

Another Geordie Comes South

Newcastle is also the home patch of Nick Stonor KC (left) who has just decided to quit the North-East to enhance his fortunes in London. Already ranked as a Band 1 barrister in Chambers and Partners and named as a Leading Silk for 2024 by the Legal 500, he clearly has nothing to prove. As a highly respected silk, he is best known for his work across the full breadth of children law cases and is also a Bencher at Middle Temple.

However, maybe he can’t resist the bright lights of 7BR where he has been a door tenant or some time and will now metamorphose into a full tenant. “After eight years as a door tenant, this feels like a natural move for me,” he says. “I am really looking forward to working with Rachel Langdale KC and other friends and colleagues in chambers. The family team at 7BR, with the support of Harry Smith, senior practice manager, have a reputation for excellence, professionalism and going the extra mile for their clients. I am looking forward to being a part of it.”

Lost property in the Conveyancing Market

Anyone trying to sell a house – or has friends trying to buy one – knows that it’s a funny old market right now. So it’s no great surprise that Licensed Conveyancers are facing a bit of an uncomfortable time.

This was the theme at the recent Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) annual market roundtable where the complaint was that members are ‘shouldering an ever-increasing weight of responsibilities but remain hesitant about increasing their fees.’

Apparently the root of the problem is that clients ‘do not really understand the conveyancing process’ and it is this grey area which has deterred any substantial fee increase. Moreover given that England has probably the worst – or most frustrating – system in Europe for buying and selling property one can understand why conveyancers are reluctant to add in another irritation to the process.

Nonetheless there is a problem. As Peter Rodd (the residential conveyancing representative on the Law Society council) points out, the fee levels have become even more out of kilter given the new responsibilities which are part of the deal with conveyancers.

“We now have the question of climate,” he says. “To what extent is the conveyancer going to be responsible to their clients for advising on those issues and the possibility of flooding? There was a suggestion a few years ago that we should tell people about the cleanliness of the air in their area. None of that is legal, but it is all getting pushed towards the conveyancer, because, at the end of the day, the conveyancer is the one who is insured and takes responsibility.”

Moreover, just giving the client information is not sufficient. The conveyancer has to explain what it all actually means. And this just drags out what is a very stressful process. Oh, dear! (Personal Note: A friend of the LegalDiarist’s family is supposed to be exchanging contracts today – he confessed last weekend that the whole exercise had made him suicidal. This was not a joke.).

Perfect for COP Week!

The number of London law firms getting a big tick as part of the Science Based Targets initiative (“SBTi”) to cut emissions is growing. The latest – confirmed just yesterday – is Watson Farley & Williams (“WFW”) which is now signed up to to reduce what are called ‘absolute scope 1 and 2 GHG’ emissions by 70% by 2032 compared with their performance in 2019. WFW also commits to reduce ‘absolute scope 3’ GHG emissions by 54.6% within the same timeframe.

Lead the way to a zero-carbon economy, boost innovation and drive sustainable growth by setting ambitious, science-based emissions reduction targets” is the selling-line at the head ol the (highly detailed) information for those who wish to meet SBTi criteria.

So this is not just some woolly PR-speak to grab the headlines. Indeed, WSP, a global consultancy, had to be brought in to ‘verify base year data and establish a roadmap’ for reducing making big improvements.

The firm’s Carbon Reduction Plan now details how the firm plans to reduce its impact in its OFFICES, SUPPLY CHAIN and in its TRAVEL arrangements.

This will now involve:

• moving to renewable energy contracts across all offices by 2030 at the latest;

• independent environmental audits across the larger offices;

• an updated Procurement and Supplier Compliance Policy, delivering ESG due diligence and ongoing performance monitoring; • an updated Business Travel Policy;

• a Global Environment Charter setting responsibilities and suggested actions for everyone at the firm to help meet objectives.

“We are delighted that our science-based emissions reduction target has been approved by the SBTi,” commented Ben Churchill, the firm’s Global Sustainability Lead. “By committing to science-based targets, the firm is aligned with the gold standard for corporate climate action and is on the pathway to net-zero.”

Bravo!

THE WRONG TYPE OF ARMED COMBAT: SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE ARMED FORCES by Danielle Vincent and Alan Collins

The tragic suicide of 19-year-old Royal Artillery Gunner Jaysley Beck has shone a spotlight on the ever-present issue of sexual harassment within the military.

An inquiry into Beck’s death showed that relentless sexual harassment from one of her bosses – including over 3,500 WhatsApp messages and voicemails – was most likely the main reason she took her own life.

While a colleague of Beck’s reported the boss’ behaviour to one of the army chiefs, the only action taken was a minor sanction and a letter of apology to Beck.

Beck’s suicide is the latest in a string of cases that show the deep systemic failures within organizations like the army. A deep-rooted sense of tradition pervades the armed forces and is too often used as an excuse to pedal a misogynistic culture that is resulting in tragedy. It is very rare for incidences of sexual harassment to be reported in the army due to fears around backlash, not being believed, or their careers being damaged.

Former defence secretary Ben Wallace has recently acknowledged cultural challenges within the armed forces and has called for the need for unbiased complaint handling.

But recent statistics paint a grim picture. Last year, military court cases for sexual offenses rose by 70%, yet conviction rates remain alarmingly low. Unfortunately, it is particularly challenging to convict perpetrators due to the behind-closed-doors nature of these crimes. Without a clear, no-nonsense policy in place, which must be accompanied by confidential support for victims, these low conviction rates will remain so.

For real change to occur, clear disciplinary action must be conducted immediately following a complaint. But beyond criminal proceedings, military abuse victims should also consider civil claims for physical and psychological injuries, loss of salary, benefits, and therapy costs.

In conclusion, addressing the deeply ingrained issues in organizations like the military requires not just policy changes but a profound cultural shift and a commitment to supporting victims through effective reporting mechanisms and legal avenues.

Danielle Vincent and Alan Collins are lawyers in the sex abuse team at Hugh James Solicitors

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement: Are there hopeful signs in the fight against the pension surplus problem?

by Rosalind Connor and Riccardo Bruno

In his Autumn statement, the Chancellor announced that the government will consult on changes to the rules around when defined benefit pension scheme surpluses can be repaid, indicating that it will look to introduce measures to overhaul the current regime, whilst also reducing the current tax rate on extracted surpluses from 35 per cent to 25 per cent.

Extracting surpluses from schemes is often not possible under the rules of many defined benefit pension schemes, and in cases where it is possible, the process is often complex and requires the involvement of the Trustees of the scheme, which may be particularly problematic where there is a strained relationship. The tax charge has been another problem with extracting surplus. This charge was put in place at a time when corporation tax rates (ie the tax saved when making pension contributions) were much higher and so it seems to be disproportionate in today’s financial climate. These constraints have naturally influenced employers’ behaviour towards scheme funding, to the extent of discouraging investment out of fear that they may not be able to extract the surplus once the pension scheme has been wound up. It has also had the effect of making employers hesitant to move to buy out, particularly in recent times where schemes are generally better funded and in a surplus.

Whilst the precise detail of the changes to the current regime is not yet known, there is hope that, coupled with the tax reduction, these changes will have the effect of incentivising employers to commit more funds to their scheme, which will lead to improved growth and member outcomes.

The proposed new measures are certainly a big step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go to tackle all of the remaining issues surrounding pension scheme surpluses. Whilst the announcement signals the government’s clear intention to support and stimulate increased investment in defined benefit schemes, many of these changes will require consultation with various stakeholders, and as such the announcement does not guarantee a concrete change for the better any time soon.

Rosalind Connor is Managing Partner and Riccardo Bruno an Associate at Arc Pensions Law.

TOPIC: The decision by the UK Government to launch an Online Fraud Charter with 11 major tech companies.

COMMENT BY: Harry Eccles-Williams, Managing Associate at Mishcon de Reya

 “The Charter is a welcome commitment to stamping out fraud, which builds on the provisions in the Online Safety Act aimed at preventing users from encountering fraudulent material online. Where the technology to make ever more convincing scams, particularly AI, is evolving rapidly, it is vital to have the support of the major tech companies to introduce systemic measures, such as ID verification, that can keep pace with change.”

COMMENT BY: Mark Jones, Partner, Payne Hicks Beach

“Tech companies have signed up to the government’s Online Fraud Charter with the aim of joining with law enforcement to protect the public from online scams. A great initiative, but given that the criminal justice system is already at breaking point coupled with a lack of resources to investigate and prosecute, there’s a question mark over whether this will actually result in more prosecutions and convictions.”

ALLEN & OVERY

Dr Anna Wolters-Höhne (left), a well-known life sciences specialist, has joined the intellectual property litigation practice at Allen & Overy as from today. Based in Hamburg, it is expected that she will assist clients on proceedings at the Unified Patent Court (UPC).

Previously a partner at technology-based firm Bird & Bird, Wolters-Höhne hasenjoyed a career of almost 20 years working in the areas of patent infringement and preliminary injunction proceedings as well as patent damages proceedings before the German courts. She has extensive experience before the German Federal Patent Court and has regularly coordinated international patent disputes and advised clients in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

“For our global clients with intellectual property matters, it is crucial to hire a law firm that is able to provide comprehensive, cross-border advice,” said Dr Jan Ebersohl, Head of A&O’s German Patent Litigation. “Our global IP practice is rapidly expanding with the new addition of Anna Wolters-Höhne following the appointment of Denise Benz as a partner earlier in the year. We are expertly placed to advise clients on cross-border patent disputes at a time when there is more innovation and change in the life sciences sector than ever before. I am thrilled that Anna will be joining our leading practice in Germany.”

SERLE COURT

Juliette Drummond(left) is joining barristers’ chambers Serle Court to oversee its ‘People’ function. Formerly with Slaughter and May, where she was a Business Partner in the HR department, Drummond has also worked at Charles Russell Speechlys, Fieldfisher and Lewis Silkin.

Her new role will include developing the culture, values, and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda at Serle Court, including keeping EDI policies current and being an advocate for change where it is required. She will oversee the cultivation of internal talent and manage the framework for training and development within chambers. She will also be working with juniors aspiring to take silk, helping them draft their applications. And on a day-to-day basis she will ensure that members of chambers – from pupils to KCs –  are fully supported in all aspects of their practice.

“We are thrilled to welcome Juliette to Chambers – her appointment is testament to our commitment to cultivating internal talent which contributes to Serle Court’s continued growth and success,” commented Kathryn Purkis, Serle Court Chambers Director.