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The Times

Monday, April 3 2017

Frances Gibb and Jonathan Ames bring this morning’s must-read of all things legal, including news, comment and gossip.

Breaking: Police warning over bail limit

Violent criminals and sex offenders could escape justice under measures coming into force today that restrict pre-charge bail to 28 days, police warned. The rules form part of a government shake-up aimed at ending the “injustice” of individuals being under suspicion indefinitely. But The Times reports that the College of Policing argued that the move was “dangerous”.

Also today ...

  • Hunt to bar lawyers from NHS hospitals
  • Family lawyers ramp up pressure for no-fault divorce
  • Rising cold weather injury payouts to servicemen
  • Barrister numbers exceed 16,000 in England and Wales
  • Beefed-up child grooming law comes into force
  • Solicitors warn rights opt-out would hit troops
  • £300,000 claim over ‘botched’ Harley Street fat removal
  • Comment: Junior lawyer pay ban is all about winning fixed fee deals
  • The Churn: Magic circle firm hires ex-Westminster spin doctor
  • Blue Bag diary: ‘Stuffed shirt’ lawyers v ‘The Fink’ in row over Brexit

Plus, see our plans for Brief Premium and archive of articles so far. Tweet us @TimesLaw with your views.

 
Story of the Day

Hunt aims to bar lawyers from NHS hospitals

Lawyers are to be banned from marketing their personal injury services in hospitals in England after the health secretary ordered a clampdown on what the government views as touting.

Jeremy Hunt has ordered NHS bosses to draw up plans to ban personal injury law firms from hospitals, the Department of Health revealed on Friday, pointing to concerns over what ministers describe as “aggressive marketing techniques some are using to win clients”.

Hunt has instructed bosses at NHS England to investigate the viability of outlawing the practice.

According to the Department of Health, ministers are concerned by growing complaints about law firms targeting patients in hospital. It says some firms have offices in hospitals while others have been advertising in casualty units.

In statement, the department said that the NHS “continues to receive letters of complaint from patients and MPs on marketing tactics from lawyers in hospitals”. It went on to claim that it has received complaints from patients “who claim they have felt intimidated and concerned by the presence of legal firms”.

“I’m increasingly concerned that the presence of personal injury law firms in the NHS,” said Hunt, “some of whom are pursuing extremely aggressive and opportunistic tactics to win new business – is distracting for staff, and intrusive for patients and families.‎

“Allowing these firms to advertise or base themselves in our hospitals goes against the spirit of what the NHS is all about. That's why I’ve asked NHS England to take action to stop it.”

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, was even more forceful, saying: “We want lawyers out of hospital and doctors out of court. That’s why personal injury lawyers are going to be banned from NHS premises following consultation on changes to the NHS standard contract.”

 
 
News Round Up
Family lawyers ramp up pressure for no fault divorce

Hundreds of people each day are “running the gauntlet” of an outdated divorce system that encourages conflict, family lawyers claim.

Specialists argue that it is time to end the “blame game” which they say is integral to current fault-based divorce laws.

In a statement linked to research released on Friday, Resolution, the 4,000-strong family lawyers’ association, told the government that urgent action was needed to prevent more cases like that of Tini Owens, the woman recently refused a divorce after 40 years of marriage when judges ruled her husband’s behaviour was not “unreasonable”.

“In the face of this overwhelming support for a change in law to allow for no-fault divorce, it does beg the question, what is the government waiting for?” said Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s chairman.

“There are more than 110,000 divorces each year,” he said, adding: “Every day the government delays, more than 300 couples get a divorce. That’s 600 people, every day, running the gauntlet of a system that actively encourages conflict and blame”.

The group’s research purports to show that present laws are needlessly painful and destructive, exacerbating conflict between couples. Spouses feel they have no alternative but to give inaccurate accounts of how their marriage broke down, stretching the truth to meet legal requirements, research from the University of Exeter suggests.

Initial findings show that nearly half of all divorces are now based on “unreasonable” behaviour, and having to make allegations to support this can create conflict between the divorcing couple, or make existing conflict much worse.

Professor Liz Trinder from the University of Exeter Law School, who is leading the Nuffield Foundation-funded study, said the research “highlights the need for law reform, made more urgent after the Owens v Owens decision.

“We need a law that helps families look forward rather than back. The current law encourages spouses to blame each other for the breakdown, but then once they’ve done that, it expects them to work together as parents to put their children first.”

Soaring rise in cold weather injury payouts to servicemen

Compensation paid to British military personnel for cold weather injuries rocketed by 20 per cent last year, as lawyers criticised defence chiefs for allegedly discouraging claims.

The government paid out nearly £1.5 million to servicemen for what are known as “non-freezing-cold” injuries last year through the Armed Forces Compensation scheme. According to Bolt Burdon Kemp, the London law firm that has analysed the figures, that figure was a fifth higher than the previous year.

Non-freezing injuries are similar to the “trench foot” suffered by soldiers in the First World War, with the condition affecting hands and feet and sometimes the genitals. It causes chronic pain, numbness and swelling, and, according to the lawyers, for soldiers, the injuries have a lasting impact on their careers and family life.

“Soldiers are most often medically downgraded or discharged from duty as they can no longer take part in outdoor activities,” the law firm says. “Many go on to develop depression and anxiety.”

Lawyers also argue that payouts from the government’s scheme average 85.5 per cent less than claims obtained through the courts and also “don’t address the long-term implications of the condition”.

Defence chiefs are also accused of ignoring servicemen when they report symptoms. “They have been dismissed and told to man up,” says the law firm.

Barrister numbers exceed 16,000 in England and Wales

The number of barristers practising continues to inch up despite increasingly difficult economics at the criminal and legal aid bars, figures from the profession’s watchdog have revealed.

There are 16,160 barristers registered with the Bar Standards Board in England and Wales for 2017-18, a rise of about 400 over the previous year.

Pupillage places at chambers are also marginally increased – 478 are registered for the current year with the board compared with slightly more than 400 the previous year.

The watchdog’s budget has also increased slightly, with income from practising certificates rising by nearly about 2.7 per cent for the current year to more than £6.9 million.

However, the board’s income derived from sources other than the practising certificate tax – such as running exams and fees for accreditation schemes – dropped by about 6 per cent to £888,000.

Beefed up child grooming law comes into force

Adults who sexually groom children through mobile phones and social media face stronger prison sentences as legislation comes into force today.

Those convicted of the new offence of sexual communication with a child will face up to two years in prison and will be automatically placed on the sex offenders register.

Ministers maintain that the enhanced legislation will allow the authorities, including the police and Crown Prosecution Service, to intervene earlier and stamp out grooming before sexual activity can occur.

Liz Truss, the justice secretary and lord chancellor, said the offence “will give courts the powers to jail anyone who sends a sexual communication to a child – and stop the process of grooming before it starts”. The move was welcomed by child protection campaigners. Baroness Newlove, the victims’ commissioner, said the law would “help keep children safe in a digital world and prevent future victims”.

The new offence covers both online and offline communication, including social media, email, and letters.

Solicitors warn rights opt-out would hit troops

Opting out of Europe’s human rights convention will leave British troops stripped of rights and dangerously exposed, lawyers said as the deadline to a parliamentary consultation draws to a close this week.

Claims for negligence brought members of the armed forces against the Ministry of Defence for providing inadequate equipment, for instance, could be blocked if the proposals were approved, said lawyers.

“If the UK is seen to reinterpret international conventions unilaterally,” said Robert Bourns, the president of the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, “we risk undermining our standing internationally, our ability to hold other states to account and we will disrupt a far wider culture of international cooperation that has been built over many years.”

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights launched the consultation last December on proposals from ministers for the UK to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights before embarking on specific military operations.

The society claims that full derogation is unnecessary as the ability to opt out of the rules during times of emergency is already agreed by the convention’s signatories. According to the society, any further statement on the ability to derogate is simply “spin”.

£300,000 damages claim over ‘botched’ Harley Street fat removal

A celebrity beautician has told a judge she felt like a “freak” and feared she was going to die after six litres of fat were drained from her legs by a Russian-trained cosmetic surgeon.

The Times reported that Tracie Giles – who is renowned for giving “permanent make-up” treatments to stars such as Katie Price and Imogen Thomas at her Knightsbridge “boudoir” – is suing Dr Alexandra Chambers for £300,000.

Ms Giles told Judge Graham Wood, QC, sitting in the High Court in London on Friday, that the cosmetic surgeon botched a lipolysis procedure designed to re-sculpt her thighs. The beautician also accused Dr Chambers of verbal abuse, claiming she branded her a “weakling”. Ms Giles, 52, says she was left traumatised by the operation which had removed too much fat, leaving her “top heavy” and needing a breast reduction.

“Dr Chambers told me repeatedly that I was a weak person who should never be considered for surgery again,” Ms Giles told the court. “She told me I was a weakling and that my healing was taking longer than anyone else’s.”

However, Dr Chambers, whose clinic is in Wimpole Street, in the exclusive Harley Street area of London, denies being either negligent or insensitive. Her barrister, Simon Butler of 9 Gough Square chambers in London, told the court that Dr Chambers had never called Ms Giles “weak”. He also said that at her final post-operative assessment in October 2012, Ms Giles declared that she was “very happy with the result”.

The High Court hearing continues.

In Brief

Drivers will pay more after European court ruling – The Times

Ditching 18 week NHS waiting list targets is 'breaking the law' claims Labour – Daily Mirror

Watchdog to launch its first competition case – The Times

Solicitor anger over late night court pilot – Law Gazette

 
 
 
Byline
Comment

Bank’s junior lawyer ban is all about winning fixed fee deals Jonathan Ames

Credit where credit is due – and last week it was due in spades to the in-house legal team and senior executives at Deutsche Bank, who over the last few days have been doing their best to rattle the cages of their panel law firms in the City of London.

In the good old days – which in this case are no more than about a decade ago – City law firms adopted an approach to billing that was beautiful in its simplicity. They would charge by the hour, throw loads of trainees and junior lawyers at a file, top the whole show off with some partner time and submit the bill with the words “please settle within 21 days” scrawled on the top.

And clients would generally pay up without blinking. They would also usually take on the chin annual increases to their law firms’ hourly rates.

The 2007-08 global financial meltdown put paid to that supine behaviour. Board chairmen told chief executives to get better value from suppliers – and legal advice was suddenly put into the procurement mix with paperclips and photocopier paper. Hourly billing came under scrutiny along with law firm working practices.

And now Deutsche has pushed a nuclear button, letting loose at least a tactical strike if not all-out intercontinental ballistic warfare. The bank has told its panel firms that it will not pay for work conducted by trainees or junior lawyers of less than one year’s qualification.

Not surprisingly, the City legal elite are not hugely chuffed. The website Legal Week first surveyed senior law firm partners for their reaction and 60 per cent said they outright objected to the move.

Now the website has asked for the views of 200 lawyers at leading UK corporations and they too are cautious. Nearly half said the German bank’s approach was not a good move.

But interestingly, 47 per cent anticipated that similar edicts would become more common in the UK market, while another 49 per cent thought they might do. Only 4 per cent were confident that Deutsche’s approach was effectively a one-off.

The behind the scenes view among senior Square Mile solicitors is that Deutsche has bulldozed its way into the centre of the debate over law firm billing structures. For some time, companies in the US have taken the view that it is not their role to pay for the training of young lawyers. They should cut their teeth at their employers’ expense.

That attitude is now crossing the Atlantic, but it is not the only message from Deutsche Bank’s probably intentionally ham-fisted approach. What it and other international corporations want from their very well remunerated external legal advisers is more certainty about costs, and preferably fixed fee deals.

If nothing else, Deutsche Bank’s senior in-house legal team undoubtedly reckons that its dramatic diktat regarding trainee and junior lawyers will make their next round of negotiations over fixed or capped fees much easier.

Jonathan Ames is co-editor of The Brief

 
 
Tweet of the Day

Supt Hastings: How do you know an ACPO officer is lying? DS Arnott: Their lips are moving My favourite line so far from #LineofDuty4

Neil Wilby @Neil_Wilby

 
 
Blue Bag

It’s still all about the money

Those with stereotypical views of lawyers as fat cat money grubbers with little sense of loyalty [Pretty much everyone outside the legal profession, Ed] will have had their preconceptions reinforced by a recent survey.

Researchers found that those in legal practice were the second most likely group of employees to be lured from their current role to another if they were showered with enough cash in the process.

Emolument, an employment and remuneration consultancy, found that 92 per cent of lawyers would readily jump ship if they were offered at least a 20 per cent boost to their wage. The least likely to be tempted by a greater wedge were auditors, with 78 per cent saying they would jump for a 20 per cent pay rise.

Meanwhile, a legal profession recruitment agency reckons that lawyers can make three moves between employers in the first ten years of their careers without their CVs emitting troublemaker vibes.

According to a blog on the headhunters’ website, the optimal job-hopping pattern for young lawyers would be two moves in the first five years – ideally at years two and four, followed by a last move at year seven.

‘Stuffed shirt’ v ‘The Fink’ in legal row over Brexit

The latest instalment in the adventures of the legal profession’s Tiger of the Twitter, Jolyon Maugham, QC, involves a public dust-up with The Times’s own Danny “The Fink” Finkelstein. The Brief will naturally attempt to remain impartial and simply report the facts.

The Windmill-owning tax silk from Devereux Chambers in London is one of social media’s most virulent anti-Brexiteers. Maugham has been promoting for some time a legal challenge in the Dublin High Court, which, he says, will rule on whether the UK can unilaterally decide to kiss and make up with Brussels and call the whole Brexit thing off.

So far, judges in the Emerald Isle have appeared less than enthusiastic to hear the case, but Maugham routinely assures his nearly 40,000 Twitter followers that it is only a matter of time before they agree to get to grips with the application.

The Fink recently queried that suggestion, saying that Maugham’s own comments on the subject drew him to “wonder whether you even convinced yourself this time”. That elicited a response that members of the legal profession often hurl at lay people: what do you know, you ain’t one of us. Or to quote Maugham: “… this is my trade and I do it well. And you are not a lawyer.”

Big mistake, as far as that scourge of Westminster, Guido Fawkes, was concerned. His website jumped on the spat and for Guido, the QC’s response was typical of the “stuffed-shirt standards of the English Bar”.

 
 
The Churn

A run down of the big partner and team moves this week

Magic circle firm hires ex-Westminster spin doctor

A “magic circle” law firm is understood to be on the verge of offering its blue chip clients expertise in spin as the City of London practice has recruited one of Westminster’s former dark-arts specialists.

Jonathan Hill, the founder of Quiller, a London PR and public affairs consultancy, is to join Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, the Anglo-German law firm.

According to the Legal Week website, Hill will join the practice under the suitably amorphous title of part-time “senior adviser”. The appointment comes in the wake of Hill’s resignation from the EU commission, where he had the brief for financial services. He quit two days after the UK voted to leave the EU last summer.

Hill is also one of the independent national directors of Times Newspapers.

Elsewhere on the roundabout …

Coffin Mew, the West Country and London law firm, has taken over Charles Lucas & Marshall to create a £15 million practice with eight offices and more than 220 employees. The deal was billed as bolstering Coffin Mew’s private client business as nearly 60 per cent of the beefed up practice will be in that field. Miles Brown, Coffin Mew’s chief executive, reiterated the firm’s ambition to be turning over £20 million by 2020.

Peter Watson, the former managing partner at the law firm Simpson Millar, has taken the chief executive role at Hilary Meredith Solicitors, a practice in the northwest that specialises in acting for members of the armed forces.

Jeetesh Patel has moved to the partnership of London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen. The family law specialist joins from Rollingsons Solicitors.

 
 
Quote of the Day

“The key factor in the future use of technology is that legal systems are designed around the people they serve – that means the clients, not the lawyers!”