Edward Fennell’s LEGAL DIARY

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

24 May 2024

Editorial contact: fennell.edward@yahoo.com

More Charisma than Starmer but what about Competence? Picture courtesy of UK Government

Given the likelihood that Keir Starmer will be installed in Downing Street by the middle of the Summer one has to compare his credentials to those of Tony Blair, the most recent barrister to be the British Prime Minister.

Supremely gifted in his oratorical skills, what Blair lacked was any experience of driving through policies on the ground. Reflecting in his biography A Journey on what his administration had achieved regarding law and order he admitted that, “The completeness of these reforms never really took hold, in terms of popular analysis and imagination in the same way as other programmes.”

Starmer’s reputation at the CPS may be mixed but at least he knows what it is like to administer a government operation. Whether that will count for much as the new Government addresses the chaos in the prisons and the crisis in the courts remains to be seen. But if a former barrister and senior civil servant cannot give some priority – in a way which will ‘take hold’ – to the mounting catastrophe in the justice system then nothing else can. The Criminal Bar will be in the Last Chance Saloon.

The LegalDiarist

In this edition

– Know A Fake when You see One?

Just what you need on a beach – a lawyer

– Recognising Neurodiversity – and Doing Something to Help

litigation funding, prisons’ crisis, grooming gang scandal, remote hearings

Quillon Law and Gide

Know A Fake when You see One?

How can you tell these days whether anything is ‘real’? Perhaps the best thing about Rishi Sunak’s Election campaign announcement in Downing Street on Tuesday was the bucket-fulls of water being poured over him because it made him look ‘authentic’ (but authentic what?).

Worryingly, surrounded as we are by deepfakes and AI, there are manifold threats to the integrity of the judicial system.

Fortunately, a new guide has just been launched to demystify the complex process of evaluating digital open-source imagery.

‘Evaluating Digital Open Source Imagery: A Guide for Judges and Fact-Finders’ has been authored by experts from a range of institutions including Swansea University, Queen Mary University of London, Open Society Justice Initiative, University of California Berkeley, Mnemonic, WITNESS, University of Essex, University of Oxford, and the Hertie School Centre for Fundamental Rights. Its purpose is to equip judges, fact-finders and decision-makers with the necessary tools to assess the credibility, reliability, and probative value of open source evidence by covering key issues such as authenticity verification, metadata analysis, and source validation. “It provides clear definitions, practical examples, and insightful guidance, enabling users to make informed assessments and decisions when confronted with open-source evidence,” says the publisher.

“This guide fills a crucial gap in the legal landscape,” continues Prof. Yvonne McDermott Rees of Swansea University, one of the co-authors. “For the first time, judges and fact-finders have access to a dedicated resource that equips them with the knowledge and tools necessary to evaluate digital open source information effectively.”

The guide will be available in multiple languages including English, Ukrainian, Arabic, French, and Spanish

‘Evaluating Digital Open-Source Imagery: A Guide for Judges and Fact-Finders’URL Link: https://www.trueproject.co.uk/osguide

Just what you need on a beach – a lawyer

Pro Bono law advice schemes are now a key part of our legal infrastructure. But it is important that they should be accessible to the people who need them most. That’s why the University of Exeter’s Law School Community Law Clinic  is on the money when it has opted to set up shop for a couple of days early next month in Exmouth and Teignnmouth.

Although the scheme is called “Law on the Beach” it’s not necessarily aimed at holiday makers but, instead, at the many low income people who tend to be drawn to coastal areas. So, with the backing of Trowers and Hamlins, the student lawyers backed by tutors, will be at the Ocean Club, Exmouth on Tuesday 4th June – and then the following day at the Teignmouth Yacht Club with sponsorship from Scott Richards Solicitors.

“Amidst the cost-of-living crisis, ensuring everyone has access to essential legal assistance is paramount,” said Kim McDonald, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Community Law Clinic at the University of Exeter. “Too many do not have access to justice or legal aid. We hope Law on the Beach will empower individuals facing legal challenges intensified by the current economic climate and provide a lifeline to those navigating complex legal issues without adequate support.”

Exeter’s Professor Sue Prince, who came up with the idea, generously acknowledges that she did not conceive it personally but borrowed it from that other sun-soaked centre – Newcastle. No, not the Geordie one but Newcastle Law School in Australia. Makes sense).

NOTE: The University of Exeter Access to Justice clinic is run in Exeter during term time. For more information or to arrange an appointment email a2jclinic@exeter.ac.uk

Recognising Neurodiversity – and Doing Something to Help

With the number and range of people coping with neuro-diversity currently exploding (there are now three in the LegalDiarist’s social group) the need for treatment and understanding is now being taken on board by the mainstream community. And one of the first law firms to embrace this is Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman which has unveiled this week a new Neurodiversity Assessment and Support package for employees in its London office. This means the firm will directly commit funding of up to £3,000 per individual to pay for Pillsbury staff and eligible family members to access early special assessment for neurodiverse conditions, as well as providing comprehensive workplace support.

 “It is estimated that 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent, and it is essential that neurodiversity doesn’t act as a barrier to success,” said Nadia Barazi, Partner and Head of D&I at the firm. “That is why we are so pleased to be able to offer this important support package, keeping pace with recent developments in understanding how neurodiversity can impact individuals at work.”

 Crucial to the move is creating greater awareness and understanding of the various practices which are now available in supporting those with neurodiverse conditions. Pillsbury’s London Managing Partner Matthew Oresman, commented,“We champion and uphold our equal-opportunity environment by ensuring our policies and practices keep pace with contemporary understanding of best practice to ensure neurodiversity is celebrated and supported.”

“Whilst in recent years, significant progress has been made to better understand how neurodiversity impacts individuals at school, work or socially, better support is still needed. We are delighted to be able to be in a position to provide that support and celebrate the strength and value that comes with a diverse workforce [by ensuring] that all of our people are striving to reach their full potential on a level playing field.”

CMS Backs Biodiversity Learning Initiative

What is the role of law in protecting biodiversity? An interesting question and one which is no doubt on the minds of many an eco-friendly activist within the legal profession. In response CMS – which knows a bit about this area of law – has taken advantage of this week’s International Day for Biodiversity (the UN-sanctioned international day for the promotion of biodiversity issues) to launch a ‘bespoke teaching programme’ on the subject in partnership with education charity Young Citizens.

“We are delighted to be partnering once more with Young Citizens to develop a fresh suite of teaching materials, this time with a spotlight on biodiversity,” said Barbara Mendler, Managing Director Operations and Strategic Projects at CMS. “Biodiversity is the cornerstone of thriving ecosystems, vital for sustaining all life on our planet. As an international law firm committed to fostering a sustainable and prosperous future for our clients and communities, we hope that this innovative programme will not only educate young people but also spark meaningful conversations and raise awareness about biodiversity and the important role of law in driving real change.”

The new teaching resources, “Biodiversity: Using the Law to Drive Change”, are designed for pupils aged 14 to 18. By working through variety of different case studies, students will take part in activities that explore what biodiversity is and why it is important, who is responsible for protecting biodiversity, how the law can play a part in protecting biodiversity and how it can be used to instigate change.

The firm has a track record in this field.This new programme builds on the award-winning Climate Action: Using the Law to Drive Change materials also in partnership with Young Citizens which was launched ahead of COP26 in Glasgow in 2021. The programme has been downloaded by over 460 schools since its launch, reaching an estimated 107,000 young people.

“With the help of CMS, Young Citizens wants to inspire children and young people to be environmental changemakers – both now and in the future,” said  Sherine Krause, Interim Executive Director at Young Citizens.

TOPIC: The recent research by the Legal Services Board (LSB) which concluded that litigation funding “protects and promotes the public interest… [and] improves access to justice.” It calls funding “a vitally important feature of legal services provision.”

COMMENT BY:

Neil Purslow, Chair of the International Legal Finance Association

We welcome the LSB’s findings that the litigation funding industry serves a public interest, and that although the industry is still nascent, it has become a key feature of legal services provision that supports the development and enforcement of the rule of law.  The report also clearly sets out how claimants would benefit if funding costs were recoverable from an unsuccessful defendant and we look forward to this becoming a key consideration in the upcoming CJC review.”

Susan Dunn, Chair of the Association of Litigation Funders

The Association of Litigation Funders has a strong and growing membership and our board will reflect on the findings contained in this important and thoughtful research, which recognises the utility of the ALF as a self-regulating body and the benefits of the code of conduct to claimants, law firms and funders.”

TOPIC: The capacity problem in HM Prisons and the Government’s response to the crisis

 COMMENT BY: Sir Bob Neill KC Chair of the Justice Committee

“Prisons are simply running out of space. My committee has long since warned of the dangers of successive Governments ignoring the rise in jail numbers, set against a workforce recruitment and retention crisis and a crumbling Victorian prison estate.

“Ministers and society must be prepared to invest in prison capacity and proper rehabilitation programmes as the current situation is unsustainable – reflected in the reports we have seen this week on arrest guidance and the activation of Operation Early Dawn.

“The Lord Chancellor previously set out plans for an annual statement on prison capacity and this still hasn’t happened. Prisons can’t weather this perfect storm for much longer and a cross-party prioritisation of prisons and sentencing policy is urgently needed.”

 COMMENT BY: Sam Townend KC, Bar Council Chair

The Ministry of Justice has – again – blamed the criminal barristers’ action for causing the prison population crisis. This is wrong. The true cause is a long-term hike in the demands the Government has placed on the criminal justice system such as new offences and longer sentences while at the same time starving it of the resources needed to service even existing demands. The Government is in charge, not the legal professions, and it should show that it takes criminal justice seriously by investing to meet the demands it has imposed.”

TOPIC: The Home Office announcement that that hundreds of suspected child abusers have been arrested by the Grooming Gangs Taskforce in its first year.

 COMMENT BY: Alan Collins, Partner in the sex abuse team, Hugh James

 “The grooming gang scandal which lives on is a scar on the national conscience. While efforts made by the government and police in addressing what is in many respects organised crimes should be applauded, this should not detract from the reality which is child sexual exploitation.

Child Sexual Exploitation is not going away and therefore neither is grooming. It is a subject we would like to pretend does not exist or assume that it happens elsewhere. Too many vulnerable children are let down by the system that is supposed to be there to protect them.

What troubles me is the lack of accountability in the system because until that changes, it will be difficult to drive through the culture and attitude changes are needed.

It has been argued that there should be a mandatory reporting law that makes it compulsory for child abuse to be reported to the police. The government says it supports a mandatory reporting law but what it proposes in my opinion is no such thing at all. All it does is say that those who should report child abuse have a duty to do so and if they don’t they may be barred from working with children.  That is not mandatory reporting.

All of those with safeguarding and child protection duties should, as a minimum, be under a legal obligation to report child abuse concerns.  This should include teachers, youth leaders, youth workers, and dare I say it, politicians who sit at the top of the pyramid.”


TOPIC: The decline in the number of remote hearings

COMMENT BY: Sam Townend KC, Chair of the Bar Council

“The Bar Council is calling for greater consistency and predictability as to the use of remote hearings which would be of benefit to all court users.  Remote hearings could be used more regularly where it is efficient to do so and can play a part in bearing down on court delays and backlogs. In this report, the profession has also set out where remote hearings are not working well or failing, hampering access to justice and productivity in the courts. It is welcome news, then, that the senior judiciary has already started to ‘grasp the nettle’ so far as the Crown Court is concerned. Some hearings, particularly those which dispose of a case or in which evidence is taken, are generally best done in person. Meeting important public needs, such as reducing the court backlog, and the benefits of remote hearings to the profession should not, of course, be to the detriment of the justice being done and being seen to be done.”

QUILLON LAW

Alina Neal, the English and Hong Kong qualified commercial litigator,  has been appointed by Quillon Law,  the litigation boutique, as Of Counsel. She joins from Stephenson Harwood LLP.

With over 17 years’ experience in resolving complex commercial and financial disputes, as well as fraud and asset recovery matters, Neal has acted both for and against banks and other financial institutions. She has also acted for funds, corporates, insolvency practitioners and high net-worth individuals,.

Among a range of Neal’s high profile cases have been a public procurement claim, where she acted for a UK train operator in relation to challenging the UK Government’s £200m award of a rail franchise. She has also acted, of notable significance, for the UK arm of India’s largest private sector bank in its successful recovery of a loan of US$63m made to the holding company of India’s oldest tea company.

“Bringing with her a wealth of expertise across commercial and financial litigation matters, Alina’s experience perfectly complements the team and we very much look forward to working with he,” said Quillon Partner Michael Barnett.

GIDE

Anne Le Quinquis and her new employment colleagues in the Gide Partnership (Now you know what a French lawyer looks like)

 Anne Le Quinquis has joined Gide as a new partner in the firm’s Employment law team. She joins from Fromont Briens, where she was a partner, but previously she had worked at Freshfields and Bredin Prat. Her first appointment, however, following graduation from Paris II Panthéon-La Sorbonne University, was also at Gide. “I am thrilled to be returning to Gide, the prestigious French law firm where I first cut my teeth,” she said.

Across her career she developed significant expertise in corporate restructuring and business ventures, as well as handling collective labour disputes. She will now provide advisory services and handle litigation proceedings in the field of employment law. It is anticipated that she will enhance Gide’s capacity in corporate reconstruction and reorganisation, particularly in the context of major transactions.

“Given the evermore sophisticated regulations, the growth in complex litigation proceedings, the increasingly international aspect social matters and the expanding ESG scope in the context of the global war for talent, we are committed to assisting our clients all the more efficiently with employment law issues,” said Frédéric Nouel, Senior Partner, and Jean-François Levraud, Managing Partner. “We are delighted to have Anne join us in this endeavour.”

Le Quinquis’ appointment now brings  Gide’s Employment law practice to four partners, two counsels and nine associates.