Law Review: Conduct unbecoming of the legal profession? – The Party’s Over?

ACS:Law is a United Kingdom law firm specialising in intellectual property law.  ISP Review notes: “Controversial solicitors firm ACS:Law UK (Andrew Crossley), which last week had all of its dirty email communication laundry leaked across the internet (here), is now facing more problems after Privacy International (PI) announced that it would take legal action against the firms breach of sensitive personal details.”

The modus operandi of ACS law against file sharers appears to have been to write to them offering the opportunity to settle matters on payment of £500.  It is interesting to note that ACS Law, according to Wikipedia, have not been successful in obtaining any court judgments – save for default judgments.

While I understand the convenience of a fixed ‘penalty’ to solicitors and client,  this course (rather than cause) of action smacks a bit of blackmail and is not linked to principles of justice in terms of damages for damage suffered by the client whose copyright has been infringed.  It leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth – a personal opinion which others may not agree with.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword is an oft quoted maxim…

ACS:Law could face £500,000 fine for porn list leak

The BBC reports: The UK’s Information Commissioner (ICO) has told the BBC that the firm behind a leak of thousands of Sky broadband customers’ personal data could face a fine of half a million pounds. The list, produced by ACS:Law, contained the names and addresses of more than 5,300 people alleged to be illegally sharing adult films online.

A most helpful Wikipedia entry provides some interesting commentary on this law firm and Mr Crossley. I have followed up many of the links, notably those involving the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.   The last time I tried, a few moments ago, the ACS Law website was down – hacked or pulled?

And…an interesting article on….

The “legal blackmail” business: inside a P2P settlement factory

Ars Technica:

UK pornographer Jasper Feversham was fed up. The Internets were sharing his films, quality work like Catch Her in the Eye, Skin City, and MILF Magic 3. He wanted revenge—or at least a cut. So Feversham signed on to a relatively new scheme: track down BitTorrent infringers, convert their IP addresses into real names, and blast out warning letters threatening litigation if they didn’t cough up a few hundred quid.

“Much looking forward to sending letters to these f—ers,” he wrote in an email earlier this year.

IPrivacy4IT – Clarinette’s blog

An excellent and comprehensive review….. of this issue on Clarinette’s blog

“Party is over” law firms warned at forum hosted by College of Law

General counsel from some of Europe’s leading corporations have warned law firms that “the party is over” and they must share the pain caused by the financial crisis with their clients.

Legal heads from top companies including Royal Dutch Shell, British Airways and Nokia Corporation outlined their measures to drive down expenditure on law firms in a bid to ease financial pressures at a breakfast forum hosted by The College of Law in London last week.

These included changes to billing methods, the move towards fixed fee arrangements rather than hourly billing and reductions in the number of law firms on their books.

Also taking part in the discussion on how the relationship between general counsel and law firms had shifted as a result of the global economic downturn were senior members of major law firms, including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Denton Wilde Sapte, Linklaters, Norton Rose and Schillings.

The forum was organised by the Madrid-based IE Law School, one of the world’s leading law schools, as a launch event for its new Lawyers’ Management Program, the first global leadership programme for senior lawyers. The College of Law has recently formed a strategic partnership with IE and will host part of the programme at its London Moorgate centre.

I’ve watched the film – it is excellent and reveals the growing power of general; counsel – something which I looked at in a podcast I did for The College of Law with Tom Kilroy GC for Misys PLC some time back.

Get To Grips With Law Reports

This excellent presentation from Emily Albion , law Librarian at City Law School,  is excellent…… nuff said.

Have a look?

Guest Post: The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse

The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse

Geoffrey Robertson QC

Penguin, 2010, £6.99

Cries to arrest high-profile figures, such as Henry Kissinger or Tony Blair, for ‘crimes against humanity’ are relatively commonplace among the placards of street protesters. But it is much rarer to find a sustained legal examination of the validity of such a course of action.

In his latest book, The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, Geoffrey Robertson QC delivers a robust polemic aimed at just such an examination. The book is timed neatly to coincide with the first ever state visit by the Pope to the UK. It was initially born out of a column Robertson wrote last April, in which he set out to deconstruct the argument that the Vatican’s claim to statehood, and its corollary that the Pope, as its head of state, can claim immunity from legal action.

Robertson is certainly well placed to make the argument. Head of Doughty Street Chambers, he has appeared in an impressive number of leading cases concerning criminal, constitutional, and international law issues. He defended the last two cases brought for blasphemy in the UK against Salman Rushdie (R (ex parte Choudhury) v Bow Street Magistrates Court [1991] 1 QB 429) and Gay News (R v Gay News Ltd [1979] AC 617). More recently he appeared in Bowman v United Kingdom [1998] 26 EHRR 1, in which the European Court of Human Rights declared an electoral law inhibiting campaigns by Catholic pressure groups to be incompatible with the article 10 right to freedom of expression.

The central thesis which Robertson elucidates in The Case of the Pope is that the Catholic Church has been able to construct for itself the edifice of both statehood and a parallel jurisdiction within states under the guise of Canon law. The former has the effect of conferring immunity from liability for civil prosecution under the principle of state immunity. The latter has been used by the Catholic Church as a mechanism to bypass either civil or criminal prosecution and ensure the ‘pontifical secrecy’ of the victim.

Litigants who have suffered from abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy are thereby frustrated from bringing a claim of vicarious liability against the Vatican itself. This is problematic for two reasons; financial and psychological. First, the diocese in which the abuse was committed simply may not have enough money to make bringing such a claim worthwhile. Robertson points out dioceses which have declared bankruptcy in the US to avoid an otherwise potentially crippling liability. Second, many victims of abuse want the vindication that bringing a claim directly against the Pope would bring. This is especially as the current Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith (CDF) between 1981 and 2005, and had responsibility for dealing with issues concerning alleged abusers.

The charge is therefore levelled against Benedict that, during his prefecture of the CDF, and under his direct authority, a policy was pursued whereby abuse complaints which were brought against priests were hushed up, with a combination of sending priests to far-flung parishes and refusing to submit complaints to the proper secular authorities for investigation. Robertson goes to some length in setting out the material condemning Benedict, and the infamous 2001 ‘Ratzinger letter’ and the so-called ‘New Norms’ laid down in 2010 are both set out in appendices. Indeed, Robertson goes so far to say that, even if one does accept the argument for Vatican statehood, then there is still a prima facie case that the Pope may be guilty of crimes against humanity, and subject to jurisdiction under international law.

While the book is astute at answering the technical legal issues which arise, the reader is left pondering a wider question posed in the opening pages, namely: “What moral blindness has made a church renowned for its benevolence so reluctant to root out and punish all the child abusers in its midst?” Robertson’s book provides a welcome dose of logic and rationality amidst the shrill voices of both sides of the debate. Ultimately, whether or not you agree with Robertson’s final conclusion, a contribution to the debate from such a distinguished international lawyer is to be welcomed.

Thom Dyke is a barrister

First published in Solicitors Journal

Ed Miliband *speech* – Over 40? Sorry…. you are not one of *Us*

I listened to the entire speech given by the newly minted NewEd – a man who appeared to have forgotten that he wrote the last Labour manifesto and was part of a government that brought in fairly repressive anticivlib laws.  Guardian summary

Be that as it may – I am a pragmatist. I understand the phenomenon where politicians develop a form of politico-amnesia and forget the past, using a fantastic loss at an election as some form of *absolution*

To my ear, the speech was remarkable – I sat marvelling at my desk, counting cliches and realised, as I am in my fifties, that *we* are not part of The Ambassador from The Planet F**k’s constituency. That is just fine by me.

Sorry… it doesn’t make me a bad person – but I do believe that David Miliband would have made a better leader – and he certainly wouldn’t have made a crass speech like that. Hey ho…. who cares what I think? I don’t even care what I think on this issue –  the next election of government isn’t until 2015.  The next election of a Labour leader may be before that?  We shall see.

Always a pleasure to tweet with polbloggers – even if they are tribal!

David Miliband was right to ask Harriet Harman QC … why is she clapping….

The link to the story is here

Apologise for it…? No problem…. Acknowledge illegality…?  – which Ed did not… he just said it was *wrong* with the percipience of a politician on the make….. shocking, really….. but Ed did not vote for for the Iraq war (he wasn’t an MP then) – although he was quite happy to serve in a Government later…and may well have been on the barricades, prominently,  expressing the view, while a Cabinet Minister, that he thought the Iraq war was wrong and illegal? I  accept that the definition of *wrong* and *illegal* are quite different.  I shall have a Google later……

Law Review: Quick links to current stories

A quick look at key stories – without comment.  I shall be doing some commentary on current issues later in the day.

CoL slammed for refusal to repay non-starter fees

The Lawyer: The College of Law (CoL) has entered into a major spat with several of Kaplan Law School’s LPC clients after refusing to refund thousands of pounds of course fees to the firms’ future trainees.

The dispute with Bird & Bird, Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW), Nabarro and Trowers & Hamlins arose after the firms, all of which send their future trainees to Kaplan, offered training contracts to students who had already paid their first instalments to CoL, which in many cases amounted to £5,890.

Law firms – got yourselves covered for PI insurance? – if not then you may well want to have a look at this….

I did a podcast with Oliver Wharmby of specialists Priest & Co recently – a useful source of information and advice.  They are PI specialists and able to accommodate risks that have still yet to secure a deal with any qualifying insurer.

Lawcast 167: Oliver Wharmby, Priest & Co, on Professional Indemnity Insurance for Solicitors

Coulson may be perjury trial witness

The Guardian:

The prime minister’s communications chief, Andy Coulson, could be called as a witness in the trial of Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan for perjury.

According to the Sunday Herald, Coulson gave a statement to Sheridan’s legal team earlier this month.

The case dates back to 2004 when Coulson was editor of the News of the World. The paper ran a story claiming that Sheridan had cheated on his wife with a former prostitute.

Government policy on torture could break law

Guardian: Equality and Human Rights Commission writes to Cameron expressing concerns about newly published guidance

The Bundle: litigious students and lawyers on Twitter

Guardian: This week’s best news, comment, analysis, blogs and readers’ views from guardian.co.uk/law and around the web

Law Review: #Twitterjoketrial – Shooting the Rule of Law in the foot?

David Allen Green will do the serious comment on the continuing saga of the #Twitterjoketrial – as he has done since the beginning.  [His blog is here ]

My only observation, having read the Guardian piece early this morning,  is… that the Rule of Law is actually important in our country – and it really does not help public confidence in  our legal system when we have prosecutions based on what was clearly a joke. It is becoming more clear that even the Police and the airport authorities at Robin Hood airport were of that view – not good that some evidence was, apparently, not disclosed at the original trial according to the Guardian report.

Fresh evidence emerged which was not heard at the previous trial that the police noted after Chambers was bailed “there is no evidence at this stage this is anything other than a foolish comment posted on Twitter for only his close friends to see”. But the crown said the conviction should stand and presented evidence that Chambers had sent direct messages to Crazycolours apparently on the terrorist theme.

Please read the Guardian coverage (and David Allen Green will almost certainly comment at some point this weekend on his blog)

This is a mess and apart from causing stress to Paul Chambers it is making our legal system look ridiculous. I can only go on what I see reported in the press, in blogs, and on twitter.  Unfortunately, so can everyone else…and they will marvel, wonder, mock and ridicule.  I suspect there may even be a few *The Law is an Ass*  comments – deservedly.

Why don’t we just go back to throwing defendants into the river to see if they float? – it would be cheaper and just as effective if the conduct of this case is anything to go by. I do hope that I don’t give our cost cutting Ministry of Justice any ideas with my last observation.

The tragedy is that there is so much good in our system… but it is cases like this which are remembered by the public – who are not that well disposed to lawyers or, possibly, our system of justice and law.  I can’t remember who told me that law only works if people want it to work and respect it….. wasn’t a Russian jurist… they used to think law would wither away under the Marxist system…. and as for those Scandinavian realists and positivism…. way ahead of their (and our/) time!

HLA Hart will be spinning in his grave. And… for non lawyers…HLA Hart was not that guy in the TV ad who kept on popping into a bookshop to see if they had his book on fly fishing.

I assume I am allowed to comment on this matter…. given that it is a matter of public record?

Law Review: Shared values ? Iran and the USA? Surely not!

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I’m very sorry: the final words of Teresa Lewis

The Independent: Her last meal was fried chicken and green peas, washed down with a can of Dr Pepper.

Her last outfit was a blue prison uniform and a pair of flip-flops. And her final words, uttered in the moments before they strapped her down to administer the lethal injection, were: “I’m very sorry.”

Teresa Lewis, a 41 year-old former drug addict with an IQ that puts her on the verge of being mentally disabled, became the first woman to be executed in the United States for five years when she was put to death at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Virginia.

I’m not a fan of the death penalty… obviously.

It is ironic, as the Indie reported…. that President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, got in on the act. “He used a speech in New York this week to argue that the case typified Western double standards: Americans expressed outrage at the stoning of woman in Islamic countries, he argued, yet sanctioned the lethal injection of a mentally challenged woman in their own backyard.”

Breaking News: Puff of White Smoke – Habemus Labourleaderem

The smart money…rumour is that Ed Milisiah has won… this is fine by me… as I now have the perfect excuse to go completely non-aligned politically… been rather disappointed with Labour civlib position in recent years …and think it is time to wait and see what our MPs actually do rather than say they will do… plenty of time.. next election will probably be in 2015!

And… I am more than happy to vote Boris…as I did last time…. I’d rather have an amusing Mayor in a City I have lived in for 31 years….

I find tribal politics rather dull now…. which is probably a good thing!

So… this blog is non aligned… not that I have ever been that bothered about political affiliation when it comes to blogging… this is why I am not and never will be a polblogger!

Law Review: Supreme Court to go on ‘Bonfire of The Quangos”? and other law

Supreme court status should not be at risk in ‘bonfire of the quangos’

Guardian: Coalition must safeguard separation of powers and the rule of law when considering status of UK supreme court

The UK Supreme Court blog has pointed out that the UK supreme court is listed as “still to be decided – options being considered” in the quango reform document which was leaked this morning.

But what does this mean? Surely not that the new UK supreme court, after £56m of investment and a successful first year in operation, is for the chop?

Not a chance. The supreme court is the highest appeal court in the land and an integral part of the UK justice system. While the name and venue are new, the court itself is almost identical to the House of Lords committee which it replaced, and most (although not all) consider its new independence from government to be a positive step for the rule of law.

What may be under consideration is the team which runs the court. The 2005 Act of Parliament which created the court states that the Lord Chancellor “must” appoint a chief executive, and “may” appoint officers and staff of the court. At present, the court has 10 executive staff, in addition to around 30 other staff.

It is, surely, inconceivable that any government would do away with the United Kingdom’s most important protector of the Rule  of Law and bulwark against the excesses of government.  I am more than happy to parody politicians from time to time – but any attempt to reduce the authority and power of the UKSC would lead us down a very dark path.  Perhaps savings could be made on the trinkets and Supreme Court teddy bears being sold?

Law firms – got yourselves covered for PI insurance? – if not then you may well want to have a look at this….

I did a podcast with Oliver Wharmby of specialists Priest & Co recently – a useful source of information and advice.  They are PI specialists and able to accommodate risks that have still yet to secure a deal with any qualifying insurer.

Lawcast 167: Oliver Wharmby, Priest & Co, on Professional Indemnity Insurance for Solicitors

A selection  of useful articles in Guardian law….

CPS to prosecute online stalkers

Control orders are dehumanising, abusive and should be scrapped

Tweet success awaits the savvy lawyer

Quality of legal aid is as important as access to a lawyer

And from John Bolch at Family Lore…

Family LoreCast #19

This week Natasha and I discuss the speech Is the Family Justice System in need of review?, given by the President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall to the shared parenting charity Families Need Fathers on the 19th September. Topics covered include shared residence, compulsory assessment for mediation in private law children matters, the future of legal aid and McKenzie friends.

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

STARWARS CHAMBER: Will Vince Vader join the *Star Chamber*?

Five departments reach agreement on spending cuts

BBC: Five Whitehall departments have reached spending agreements with the Treasury, ahead of next month’s spending review.

The Treasury, Cabinet Office, Foreign Office plus the environment and communities departments have reached agreement on cutting their spending. As a result ministers Eric Pickles and Caroline Spelman have joined the “star chamber”, which rules on departments which cannot agree cuts.

I have to say… I am astonished by many things these days.. but calling a government committee the *Star Chamber* – is quite extraordinary….

I can’t be arsed to write a polemic about the original Star Chamber – here is the Wikipedia entry

This extract may give you an idea of where my mind is heading on this…..

Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. Evidence was presented in writing. Over time it evolved into a political weapon and became a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts.

Oh… and PLEASE read @Konnolsky on Cable…. a parodist with style – on Page 2 of the comments – Wonderful!

Follow @Konnolsky on twitter? Mad! – in a very good way

Law Review: College of Law takes £450,000 hit in Halliwells collapse

CoL left with £450,000 Halliwells bad debt

The Lawyer reports: “The College of Law (CoL) is owed almost half a million pounds by Halliwells relating to unpaid LPC fees for the 2009-10 financial year.

The institution, which ran the LPC for Halliwells’ trainees on an exclusive basis, is one of dozens of creditors owed a total of £14.1m by the law firm, which went into administration in July this year.

CoL chief executive Nigel Savage said that the organisation might be left with no choice but to write off the bad debt, which amounts to £448,293.30.”

Nigel Savage –  The primary thing was to make sure that the students could take the exams and make sure they were placed with firms.”

I’d like to  make a number of observations on the story and on the extraordinary comments to the story in The Lawyer.

Halliwells was a leading firm.  It is hardly surprising that The College of Law extended them a facility of extra time to pay.  I am not sure if The College, or any other creditors, save HMRC and the Halliwells bankers were, or could have been,  aware of problems on the horizon before being advised by Halliwells that extra time to pay was needed.  I assume that credit checks were done and came back as satisfactory.  Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful power possessed by so many.

The College of Law, in my view, behaved honourably by allowing students to complete the course and in trying to place the students with other firms.  Many universities and colleges will not allow a student to graduate where the individual does not pay their fees, unless there are good reasons.  The Halliwells students were not at fault.

The comments to The Lawyer story – some sensible – were quite extraordinary; resembling the type of commentary from the knuckledraggerariat seen in the Daily Mail and The Sun.  I suspect that some comments were written by bored lawyers and other  Messrs Anonymice – having a larf – their parodic value is evident.

Inevitably, comments came in to the effect that if The College can write off £450,000 it is making too much money, the fees are too high etc etc etc.  The College of Law is a charity. Profits are ploughed back into the business.  I have no idea what impact this £450,000 hit will have on the College finances current and going forward.  It is a great deal of money.

Ah… but some of the commenters say that Nigel Savage and his board directors are too highly paid. They are highly paid.  I know Nigel Savage well – so I will interject here with a personal observation and a bit of history which may not be known to some of commenters who are quick to criticise..

I worked with Nigel Savage when he was Dean at Nottingham Law School.  I was CEO of BPP Law School then. We did a three year collaborative deal.  At the end of this, BPP Law School sought and obtained LPC accreditation solo and then went on to get validation to do the BVC.  My work was done – I am not interested in administration or running things. I prefer setting them up.  It is not my ‘thing’ or, indeed, my forte.  I resigned from BPP soon after validation for the BVC.  Peter Crisp and Carl Lygo were very much the right people to take BPP on to where they are today.

Nigel Savage moved from Nottingham Law School  to take over as Chief Executive of The College of Law.  I remember saying to him that this was a massive undertaking and I recall using the words – ‘poison chalice’. .  I thought The College of Law was a basket case then.  Soon after resigning as CEO of BPP Law School, I was then asked by the  leading seven Magic Circle and City firms to do a report on the viability of a City LPC.  My report on the College of Law was deservedly negative.  Nigel Savage had only been in post a year.  The College of Law were not invited, then, to be a provider by the consortium of magic circle firms for the provision of the LPC. It did not, however,  take Nigel Savage and his close colleagues and the teaching staff to drive change through and become favoured providers by leading law firms.  That didn’t happen by chance or by accident.  It happened through skill. City and big commercial law firms demand the best – and there are many very good LPC providers in the market.

The College of Law, like most law schools, will have faults and errors will be made – but I have seen the astonishing changes over twelve years.  The quality of staff, the quality of materials, the quality of teaching is now very good – certified to be so by experienced inspectors from the profession.  Nigel Savage brought about and inspired many of these changes by bringing good people in – and with that team, The College of Law is now a leading provider of education across degree and professional levels.  Worth £440k a year?  I would think so.  He could have gone elsewhere.  I happen to know – because I was there and party to discussion with the then Chief Executive of BPP Holdings plc, Charles Prior, on that very issue – he could have come to BPP and he would have been paid extremely well. We certainly wanted him to.  (It is so long ago, that I am not revealing ‘confidential information’ of any commercial value and I justify stating it on grounds of fair comment on this story.)

Cynicism is always healthy. Criticism is a good thing – provided it is fair and constructive.  I have no doubt that there  are administrative cocks ups from time to time – exam papers going missing etc etc – reported gleefully by RollonFriday for comedy value.  I have no doubt that some of the teachers aren’t as good as others etc etc etc.   I doubt whether even the top magic circle firms deliver perfection 24/7/365 – I am sure they strive to, and I am equally sure that if anything goes wrong – they put it right.

I’ll end with  an observation – Professor Avrom Sherr (Director of The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies), another friend from the old days, told me once –  “Making mistakes gives you an opportunity to show how good you are by putting it right”.  He’s right.

Vince Cable: Putting a bit of SPIV on Coalition government

Cable attacks City ‘spivs and gamblers’

Independent: Business Secretary Vince Cable launched a searing attack today on the City “spivs and gamblers” who crippled the British economy.

In a rousing speech to round off the first Liberal Democrat conference since they entered coalition, Mr Cable condemned the “outrageous” scale of bank bonuses after the credit crunch.

But he also attempted to calm business concerns over his damning critique of capitalist excess and threats to legislate against big payouts, insisting he was not seeking “retribution”.

Looks like things going quite well for the Coalition…


But… DON’T PANIC…. Beaker has everything under control….

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Danny Alexander: ‘We take impact of cuts seriously’

The Indie reports…. “Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander insisted today that proper assessments would be made of the impact of “painful” spending cuts due to be announced next month.”

Reading the Indie article… it would seem that Beaker is well into using the word *IMPACT* –  not in the sense of a crash, one hopes?