Insite Law: 28th May – news, reports and comment up…

Editor pick of the day
28th May 2009

A reality check

Legal Week reports that the top 10 law firms are stepping up alternative billing on client concerns with the emotive headline “UK elite bow to clients with plans for rate freeze

The reality of markets is that prices fluctuate according to supply and demand. Law firms and law schools, having enjoyed a rather long bull run where they held the whip hand in terms of fee structure and charging, are now facing the reality that it is a buyer’s market.

Mike SP

You can dress it up as much as you like, you can consult experts on value billing versus the billable hour – but at the end of the day it is all down to what you can get away with and keep your business profitable. If you reach the point where you can’t get work at a profitable rate the business will close. It is as stark as that. Law firms are simply adjusting to current market forces. There will come a time when they can ‘re-adjust’ their fees.

The jury is out on the jury

Lord David Pannick QC, writing in the Times, states: “The decision of the Divisional Court (Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Sweeney) last Friday to fine Times Newspapers £15,000 for a report in this newspaper about a jury’s verdict in a manslaughter case strengthens the campaign for reform of an indefensible law of contempt of court.”

Pannick argues that The terms of Section 8 are absurdly wide in their scope and application and there is no provision for a public interest defence. He makes the rather pertinent point… ” The absolute nature of Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 is indefensible, especially when Section 5 of the same statute says that if a person is charged with another category of contempt by publishing an article that creates a substantial risk of impeding or prejudicing court proceedings, it is a defence to show that the publication is part of a discussion in good faith of a matter of public interest and the risk of impediment or prejudice is merely incidental to that discussion.”

It iis an interesting issue; one that requires further investigation. Also in The Times this morning, Mark Stephens asks “Would you want to know if a Ouija board decided your case?” saying that ” It seems trite law that the secrets of the jury room, however compelling, must never be revealed. The British have a penchant for locking away in the closet distasteful truths about much loved institutions — whether jury deliberations or Liberal politicians.”

Stephens observes – going straight to the heart of the matter…” After the acquittal of Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of the Liberal Party, on a charge of conspiracy to murder in the Old Bailey in 1979, Parliament reacted swiftly to protect its own, passing the modern strict liability offence as an absolute bar against revelation of almost anything from inside the jury room.”

Perhaps a bit of reform would not come amiss? Do jury deliberations need to be shrouded in mystery? Would lawyers benefit from research about how jurors reach decisions? Would justice be more open, more accountable, more just,  if we were allowed to know how a jury reached a decision? Would it just be too much information to cope with and… therefore… best that we do the British thing and leave things as they are?

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