Diary news, commentary, insights, appointments and arts from the legal world
August 26 2022 Editorial Contact email@example.com
SHORT THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: HOW RADICAL CAN WE GET (in fixing the broken justice system)?
If you have not already done so it is definitely worth reading the Letters page of The Times this morning. The principal contributions concern the state of the criminal justice system and, collectively, they distil both the shortcomings and the short-sightedness of the current set-up.
Naturally, the collapse in earnings and the numbers of criminal lawyers – both solicitors and barristers – are highlighted. But there are also stark and challenging observations about the in-built deficiencies in the traditional way of operating – highlighted particularly effectively by a former barrister’s clerk.
If the system, as it appears, really is at breaking point then radical thinking is required and time-honoured conventions must be re-examined. New ideas are available which extend beyond just raising fees (vital though that is). But how far can the profession and the Government countenance the killing of sacred cows? Maybe the time has come.
In this week’s edition
+ LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
– Keeping Well Working for RWK Goodman
– On Yer Bike Again (for real)
– Playing dominos? You’re nicked!
– Lawyers on TV: Not diverse enough?
+ LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK on striking barristers and Scottish plans for a new approach to sex abuse cases
+ APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK at Eversheds Sutherland and Ontier
LEGAL DIARY OF THE WEEK
Keeping Well Working for RWK Goodman
Is working for a law firm bad for your mental health? Given the reports of stress and anxiety among young lawyers – notably associates – one might reasonably assume so. Which might explain why RWK Goodman has decided to call in TeamDoctor, a consultancy specialising in mental and physical health and wellbeing, to work with new recruits.
Within their first few weeks the newbies will undertake a course covering issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, presenteeism, workplace relationships, management culture and structure. (So that sounds pretty much like everything!).
But that’s not all. The ‘Keeping Well at Work’ series also covers sleep problems, challenging workplace environments, PLUS how do get the best diet when you’re at work and building more exercise in your working day.
‘Old school’ lawyers might wonder what the world is coming to but one of the biggest management challenges in these post-Covid days is staff retention both in mind and body.
“We are getting grateful emails from staff members who are recording their real enthusiasm for the mental health awareness course,” said Emily Curtis, the firm’s senior HR advisor.
So how does it work? Certainly not in a classroom. Instead the medium lies in a library of 51 films on all aspects of workplace welfare which are sent to employees over the course of a year so information can be digested in bitesize chunks. And as an added bonus it is CPD accredited.
So it seems to be going down well with the staff who have written in with comments such as, “I can honestly say this course has changed my life. I can’t thank you enough. I wasn’t able to put a name to the issues I was facing until I did your course and particularly your training on workplace relationships.”
No wonder Emily Curtis comments delightedly, “It is the best response to an intervention like this that we have ever had.”
On Yer Bike Again (for real)
Talking of physical health, it’s good to see that Breast Cancer Now’s Tour de Law is returning to its traditional, pre-Covid format this year in mid-October. For the past couple of years it has been forced to operate virtually but now barristers and solicitors from across the country can scoot back to take part in the annual charity cycle race in their offices.
The goal is to support breast cancer research and life-changing support and since it first got into the saddle in 2012, Tour de Law has raised £1 million. Participating firms and chambers receive two static bikes from Breast Cancer Now and the challenge will be for the riders to clock up as many kilometres as possible between 8am on Wednesday 12th October and 4pm on the following day. “Colleagues can sign up for as many or as few slots as they like, making the event accessible for both amateurs, seasoned cyclists, and everyone in-between,” say the organisers.
As a major incentive there are prizes to be flaunted by the most mile-hungry team which produces the highest combined distance and fundraising total. Not only will they get their sweaty hands on the coveted Tour de Law trophy but they will also receive a cherished framed INEOS Grenadiers jersey signed by the 2019 Tour de France team, which can be proudly displayed in their office until Tour de Law 2023.
“We encourage chambers and law firms to sign up now to race against their rivals,” said Claire Pulford, Associate Director, Community and Events at Breast Cancer Now. “As well as having a lot of fun they’ll raise vital funds that enable Breast Cancer Now to continue to be there for the thousands of people who are affected by breast cancer in the UK through its world-class research and life-changing support services.”
So sign up today. The deadline for registration is 2 October.
Lawyers on TV: Not diverse enough?
Playing dominos? You’re nicked!
According to research funded by The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF) vulnerable people with mental health problems are being sent to prison for breaching Anti-Social Behaviour Injunctions (ASBIs) imposed for what might be seen as trivial offences. These include, for example, feeding pigeons, street begging and playing dominoes in public. The investigation comes two years after a report by the Civil Justice Council which had found that ASBIs were “not working” and that “as a matter of urgency” data should be collected and made available “in order to assess the use and efficacy of orders.”
“This investigation reveals the weakness of current arrangements for dealing with anti-social behaviour, and the risks they pose to very vulnerable people,” said TLEF’s Director of Research Dr Natalie Byrom. “It also further highlights the ‘data desert’ across our civil courts.
“It is now more than two years since two reports urged the Government to provide more data about ASBIs and improve information on vulnerable parties in civil cases. Yet since then, there has been next to nothing in response.
“This lack of action is reflective of a wider failure to invest in effective data collection and governance across our courts and tribunals service. Without such investment we will continue to struggle to improve the impact and effectiveness of the justice system.”
You can read the full investigation here.
LEGAL COMMENT OF THE WEEK
TOPIC: The decision of criminal barristers to escalate their strike action from September
COMMENT BY: Mark Fenhalls QC, Chair of the Bar Council
“It is a matter of deep regret to all of us that barristers have been driven as a last resort to take this further action. Members of the criminal Bar have been feeling mistreated, undervalued and overwhelmed for a decade or more.
“Politicians cannot be in any doubt as to the dire state of the criminal justice system. Ministers must look again immediately at ways to fund the backlog cases and bring a resolution to this difficult situation.”
COMMENT BY: A spokesperson from BPP University Law School
“The strike action we are seeing across the country is a result of the working conditions that Barristers have had to endure for a number of years, including pay cuts that have seen their income decrease by nearly a third (28%) since 2006.
“While some may think that the strike action is unnecessary or unjustified because lawyers are often thought to have well-paid salaries, the reality is that this actually only applies to a fortunate few that are high up in the pay scale.
“In fact, the current working conditions are causing new criminal barristers who start in junior level positions to walk away from criminal work before they reach mid or senior level roles.
“Young people are integral in bridging the gap between younger and more senior lawyers in the profession, and will often take the place of those at senior and mid-levels as they progress. However, if young people are being put off by unfair working conditions before they reach those career milestones or even enter the workforce, due to pay levels and working conditions, the profession’s diversity and inclusion will suffer as a result, alongside a continued backlog of court cases.
“It is, therefore, our hope that the strike action will result in some changes across the legal profession that will highlight the importance of barristers to the criminal justice system, and encourage young people into criminal work.”
For more see https://www.bpp.com/courses/law
TOPIC: A possible move in Scottish courts, to ‘judge-only’ sexual offence trials and the creation of additional courts outside the existing judicial structure.
COMMENT BY: Stuart Munro, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee
“It’s important that people who are affected by crime are treated with respect. We support changes that make it easier and less traumatic to participate in our justice system, but not if they compromise fundamental principles such as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.
“The right to trial by jury for serious crimes is a cornerstone of the Scottish legal system, and we believe replacing that with judge-only trials would carry risks with no discernible benefits. A jury will always be far more reflective of Scottish society than a single judge can be, which greatly reduces the potential for subconscious bias to influence trial outcomes.
“Juries are anonymous while judges are not. Overt public criticism of judges or the exertion of political pressure on them would be unfair on the judiciary and incompatible with justice.
“We would not support the creation of a new specialist sexual offences court outside of the existing court structure. This would add another layer of complexity and bureaucracy, which would come at a considerable cost.
APPOINTMENTS OF THE WEEK
Joseph Hale is joining Eversheds Sutherland as a partner in its Litigation and Disputes practice. Formerly co-head of the construction team in the Leeds office of Freeths, Hale was responsible for the practice’s strategic growth, working with a broad range of clients including developers, local authorities, contractors and sub-contractors. He had a particular focus on infrastructure and energy, including rail, water and highways.
“Joseph is a strong addition to our reputable and skilled bench of construction and engineering partners and we are delighted to welcome him to the team,” commented Jonathan Douglas, Partner and Product Group Head of Construction Litigation, Eversheds Sutherland. “His track record of developing effective client relationships and his deep understanding of clients’ needs, will support our clients through their highly complex and dynamic disputes. Our clients continue to be extremely busy against the backdrop of major rail expansion projects, the current levelling up agenda and the increasing focus on cleaner, energy efficient construction and the addition of Joseph allows us to further our established client relationships.”
James Dixon has joined the London office of international law firm Ontier which has offices across Western Europe and the Americas. He joins from Priestleys in the Cayman Islands where he advised on commercial disputes and insolvency but he has also been previously with Fladgate and Ontier’s office in the British Virgin Islands. Across these firms he has a history of acting for clients on a range of commercial, international litigation, including shareholder disputes and fund disputes. He has also acted for companies, shareholders and insolvency practitioners in cross-border insolvency litigation and arbitration.
At Ontier London, James will represent companies and high-net-worth individuals in a range of multi-jurisdictional disputes. “We are delighted to welcome James to our growing partnership in London,” said Derek Stinson, Managing Partner of ONTIER LLP’s London. “His in-depth international experience will neatly augment our existing expertise and provide additional strategic support for our clients involved in cross-border disputes.”
Ontier is probably best-known recently for its high-profile litigation including advising Dr Craig Wright, the author of the White Paper protocol for the creation of Bitcoin.
That’s all for now folks – enjoy the Bank Holiday! We’ll be back next week but taking a short break after that. Meanwhile, please keep sending your Diary stories, legal comment and insights to