Court of Appeal Rules man can Sue UK Government

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abdul-hakim-belhajJudges at the Court of Appeal have decided that Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan man who claims to have been illegally sent back to his home land and tortured, can mount a case against the UK government in court.

Previously, the High Court had decided that Mr Belhaj’s case could not be heard in a British courtroom because of the potential damage it could do to international relations. Specifically, it was decided by Mr Justice Simon that, in spite of the alleged knowledge held by UK officials, a court in England did not have the power to adjudicate on claims of rendition and torture that took place in Libya. Furthermore, the court  dcided that many of the claims were “non-justiciable” in UK courts because they involved officials in China, Libya and other countries such as Thailand and Malaysia.On these grounds, it was decided that the case be thrown out.

However, the Court of Appeal has overturned this decision, with judges deciding that Mr Belhaj’s claims were “grave” enough to warrant being heard in court. Judges at the Appeal Court said that state immunity was not enough to bar the proceedings. Furthermore, Lord Dyson voiced the opinion that there is “a compelling public interest in the investigation by the English courts of these very grave allegations.”

Sapna Malik, the lawyer representing Mr Belhaj, described the decision as a “very significant step forward.” Mr Belhaj, who is now a politician in his homeland of Libya, said that he and his wife were “gratified by the judges’ decision to give us our day in court.”

Mr Belhaj alleges that MI6 and Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, were deeply involved with the arrangement of the rendition of Mr Belhaj and his wife from China. According to Mr Belhaj, who previously led a group opposing the Muammar Gaddafi regime, claimed that information leading to his rendition was provided by British Intelligence.

The rendition took place in 2004, and resulted in Mr Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar being returned to their homeland where they were subjected to torture which, according to Mr Belhaj, is “as fresh and as painful for us as if it happened yesterday.” Mr Straw has previously denied any awareness of the rendition.

The government and Jack Straw now have the option to appeal to the Supreme Court. If an appeal is made, the case will not be heard until this has concluded. According to a statement from the Foreign Office, it is currently considering whether to lodge an application for an appeal or not.

Senior Judge Praises Televised Pistorius Trial

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Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, has praised South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius trial, which was controversially televised. Neuberger’s comments were included in a speech in which he stressed the value of open justice.

Neuberger said that broadcasting trials “is merely the modern extension of enabling the public to enter the courts physically.” Like making courts open to public visitors, televising a trial gives ordinary people access to the proceedings of the justice system and the ability to see how decisions are reached first hand.

Lord Neuberger, speaking in Hong Kong to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, said that “Open justice is an essential feature of the rule of law. In its most basic form, it means that court hearings take place in public and judges’ decisions are available to the public.” He also stressed the importance of making sure that the way in which information was provided to the public was not only accessible but comprehensible, and described the role of the media in doing this as “essential.”

By contrast, he said, “if courts sit in private, judges cease to be properly accountable for their decisions, as the public do not know what the evidence and arguments were put before the judge, or why the judge reached a particular decision.” Furthermore, Neuberger warned that courts may “get into bad habits” should the doors be shut to the press and the public, and this could erode confidence in the integrity of the justice system.

On this basis, Neuberger decidedly expressed his support for the concept of televising trials. However, he acknowledged that it is important to approach the matter in the right way. For example, he described the US’ trial of OJ Simpson as a lesson “in how not to do it.” By contrast, he praised the more recent coverage of South Africa’s trial of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, calling the media handling of the trial “impressive.”

Neuberger also stressed that it was essential journalists do not abuse their privileged position in passing on vital information about legal proceedings to the public. He acknowledged that simplification and even bias are likely to creep into the way that judgements are reported, and also that the media will likely level criticism at some aspects of the law. However, he insisted that through this the reporting process should remain “based on accuracy and truth rather than misreporting and propaganda.”

Summing up the importance of journalistic integrity in this process, he said “Inaccurate and unfair reporting of a judge’s decision in order to make a good story is an abuse of the freedom of expression accorded to the press and it undermines the rule of law.”

Progress and Limitations on “Right to be Forgotten”

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Google Logo 2010Google has recently made some first steps in complying with the recent EU ruling that individuals may have some information about themselves removed from search results as part of a “right to be forgotten.” However, while Google has done a lot in a very short time to comply with the ruling in spite of the company’s own disappointment with the controversial decision, there remain strict limitations in place. Some of these limitations are with the ruling itself, and show no signs of going away however closely Google complies with the law.

Google recently created a webform through which people are able to request the removal of content. Individuals completing the form will have to explain their reasons for considering the content “irrelevant, outdated or otherwise inappropriate.” Under the EU ruling, it is only this type of content that can be removed in order to prevent negative media coverage from a person’s past continuing to dominate any search engine query relating to that individual. Those submitting requests will also have to specify which European jurisdiction they reside in and provide digital copies of identification in order to prove their personal eligibility.

However, by Google’s own admission these efforts are in the early stages. The form is just an “initial effort” with significant changes and improvements to the company’s systems still expected in the months to come.

Furthermore, the EU ruling is disappointingly non-specific even for some of those who agree with the European Court of Justice’s decision. The type of content specified as eligible for removal is extremely broad, and at the same time vague enough to make it difficult to specify any one type of content. For their part, Google seem to have adopted a fairly narrow interpretation. Once a removal request has been received, they will weigh up whether the information’s availability is in the public interest, and if they feel that it is the request is likely to be rejected. When it comes to the public interest, Google seem to have matters such as financial fraud, misconduct and professional malpractice in mind.

There are also some limitations that will never be overcome by Google’s efforts alone. This fact will not be unwelcome to the many who have disagreed with the EU Court of Justice’s ruling, but will certainly disappoint those who are hoping to have negative media coverage buried. For a start, the ruling relates only to search engine results. It will still be accessible through links on other websites and searches within the news website itself. Secondly, it only applies to search engines focussed on markets within the EU. Through the nature of the internet, it is extremely easy for individuals within the EU to access search engines outside EU jurisdictions in which the results may still appear, and this could include Google’s own, main .com domain.

Black Lawyers Still Underrepresented in South African Legal System

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South African CourtSince the days of Apartheid, South Africa has been hailed for undergoing a complete transformation which has seen drastic improvements in racial equality. However, black groups still remain very much underrepresented among the country’s lawyers.

Those who would once have been severely restricted by Apartheid now make up two thirds of the past ten years’ law graduates. While this figure would look encouraging on its own, data from the Law Society of South Africa reveals that only 37% of the country’s practising attorneys are black. There is evidently great disparity between the number of black people who complete law degrees in South Africa and the number who go on to work as lawyers. When it is considered that approximately 79% of South Africa’s population as a whole are black, even the two thirds (66%) of graduates that are black begins to look a little low.

According to South African attorney Michael Motsoeneng Bill, “The rhetoric has been that there was room for all of us, but it created too high an expectation. The idea that you are a black lawyer and therefore your fate is sealed is wrong.” Bill himself has enjoyed success as a black lawyer, but has also seen how difficult it is for his peers to get on in the industry.

The reason for the underrepresentation of black people among South Africa’s 22,000 practicing solicitors, Bill theorises, is that 80% of law firms remain white-owned, and this figure includes many of the big players. This is coupled with the fact that corporate clients are the most lucrative and desirable ones in the legal industry, and corporations in South Africa also remain heavily white-dominated. Bill suggests that ultimately, “They often don’t have the courage to change the status quo and diversify briefing patterns.” This leaves black lawyers confined to lower-paying areas of practice such as conveyancing, and such restrictions could potentially be a disincentive to work as a solicitor at all.

For some, the issue of underrepresentation has been highlighted by the high-profile Oscar Pistorius trial. Thanks to the decision to allow the trial to be televised, it has shown a case within the South African court system to the world. The picture the world has seen has included an all-white defence team and predominantly white team acting for the prosecution. Considering the giant steps towards equality and diversity that so many other parts of South Africa have experienced in recent years, many have found this image a surprising one.

Mis-sold PPI and its Repercussions

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In the past couple of years, numerous cases of mis-sold PPI cases have been uncovered leading to an enormous spurt in claims for PPI refunds. PPI or Payment Protection Insurance covers the credit card payments or loan payments in case of sickness, accident or unemployment. You may have also been mis-sold the policy without your knowledge.

Considering PPI Claims

If you look into the PPI basics, you will find that the policy is in essence a good one, but due to the wide mis-selling, hundreds of people are left without any cover. And this even happened in spite of paying a huge amount in monthly premiums. The cost of the insurance is large, and dwarfed the interest thus leading many people to think of it as an expensive affair.

Cause for Mis-selling

The financial providers were under huge stress to increase the sales of PPI which forced them to mis-sell thus leading to the PPI fraud. You could have avoided getting embroiled in the PPI scam if you had known whether you really need to have a PPI while taking the policy.

Standalone PPI

If you have taken a PPI policy along with a loan or mortgage, the provider should let you cancel the insurance. If you do need a PPI, you should get it as standalone insurance and cancel the PPI you purchased along with the loan to save money. A PPI calculator will help you know the exact amount of money you need to pay.  You get to save money with a standalone policy because the commission money will be reduced. With a standalone factor, you need to cover only one third amount of the cost.

If you have been mis-sold, you can lodge a PPI complaint with the concerned provider, or get assistance from the Financial Ombudsman Service. PPI help can also be obtained by approaching PPI claim agencies such as the PPIClaimsAdviceLine.Co.  With the High Court judgment being made in favour of the consumers, PPI claims should be dealt with in a fair manner now.

Samsung to Sue Dyson

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Samsung-LogoSouth Korean electronics firm Samsung is to sue Dyson for 10 billion Korean won(£5.6 million). The lawsuit claims that the British appliance maker had “hurt Samsung’s corporate image” through past litigation falsely claiming the electronics firm was copying features of its appliances.

In August 2013, Dyson brought a case for infringement of patent against Samsung, claiming that the electronics company had copied a steering system used in some of Dyson’s cleaners. According to a statement made by Dyson chief executive James Dyson at the time “Although they are copying Dyson’s patented technology, their machine is not the same. Samsung has many patent lawyers so I find it hard not to believe that this is a deliberate or utterly reckless infringement of our patent.”

The lawsuit was later dropped in October, as the Korean company was able to show it had been using this technology before Dyson filed their patent. It was, therefore, decisively established that the company had not been copying Dyson. However, Samsung contends that this was too late to prevent harm to their image in the eyes of the public.

The new lawsuit was filed at Seoul District Court last week, and the reasons behind the case were explained in a statement to the Korea Times. The company originally stated an intention to assess the damage that had been made to their image at the time that Dyson’s lawsuit was dropped. They said they would then decide whether they should take action of their own, and it seems this decision has now been reached.

The sum that is initially being demanded may not be the full extent of the lawsuit. According to the statement a spokesperson for the company made to the Korea Times; “We are initially seeking 10bn won from the UK-based manufacturer. However, the amount will increase depending on how the court proceedings go.” The spokesperson went on to say that “Samsung’s marketing activities were negatively affected by Dyson’s groundless litigation, which is intolerable.”

According to a spokesperson for Dyson, the company is “not apologising.” The spokesperson went on to claim that Dyson have not yet been provided with a copy of the complaint made against them.

Responding to the new litigation from Samsung, James Dyson called it “surprising” that Samsung was “so worried.” Of the original lawsuit for patent infringement which started the trouble, Dyson said simply “We patent our technology, and naturally defend it.” He then went on to suggest that the judgement of the original case suggested the protection afforded by the patent system is “not enough.”

British Courts Give Most Generous Payouts for Divorces

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A new report has revealed that courts in England and Wales award the most generous maintenance payouts in divorce cases when compared to other jurisdictions around the world. As a rule, British courts award larger payments which are sustained for a longer period of time when compared to other countries.

London has been nicknamed “the divorce capital of the world,” partly due to the generosity of maintenance payouts. This has not gone unnoticed by the world at large, and some couples from other jurisdictions have chosen to conduct divorce proceedings with the UK for this reason.

1This practice has divided opinions. Those who take a more negative viewpoint suggest it gives some spouses greater opportunity to secure higher payouts than they should really be entitled to. However, many also maintain that it makes for a fairer system, and gives greater protection to spouses who may be left financially vulnerable following a divorce.

The international law firm who compiled the report supported the latter view. The conclusion of the report stated that “England has an international reputation as an attractive divorce forum for the financially weaker spouse, and we should be proud of the courts’ efforts to reach a fair result in each and every case.”

According to the report, one of the key reasons for the generosity of settlements made in British courts is that UK judges are given a greater freedom regarding these details. Overall, the report looked at 15 countries including New Zealand, the US, South Africa, and a number of mainland European countries. It determined that the degree of “judicial discretion” given to British judges was greater than that given to their counterparts in any of the other countries studied.

Another key factor was the concept of fault, which is treated very differently in different countries. In some countries, this is considered a key factor in the case, and factors like adultery and abandonment can seriously affect one spouse’s financial entitlements. In other countries, fault is more of a discretionary point and not a key aspect of the case. The UK places considerable emphasis on the concept of blame, meaning that spouse’s may receive higher payments if the blame is deemd to lie with the other party.

The Law Commission is currently set to review all areas of family law, including the issues surrounding divorce settlements. This review is part of an ongoing effort to ensure fair practice. The report notes that it will be interesting to see whether this will have an effect on the generosity of maintenance payouts.

Chancellor confirms LLP tax clampdown

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In the autumn statement chancellor George Osborne revealed that controversial measures to stop employees claiming partnership status to avoid tax, will be implemented in due course.

This year’s Autumn Statement was held on 5th December 2013. The most expected announcement, as a result of the summer consultation, concerned the proposed controversial legislation which affects fixed share members and the taxation of corporate members.

1The chancellor declared that he is determined to guarantee that tax advantages of partnerships are not abused. Furthermore, he revealed that changes proposed in the draft National Insurance Bill earlier this year will be applied soon.

The requirements postulated in the new rules are for many members of limited liability partnerships to be obliged to pay higher national insurance contributions by removing an automatic exemption. This is a result of a government announcement in the budget that the government would remove the assumption that LLP members are self-employed rather than employees.

However, the Law Society made a warning that these proposed measures would have serious implications for the legal and business community, and posed a risk to UK’s reputation as an attractive business location.

Chris Grayling Says Court Might Increase Small Claims Limit in the Future

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UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling had said that it is possible that courts might decide raising the small claims limit in the future despite refusing to increase it today. According to Grayling, he had listened to the observations of the House of Commons transport select committee and their opinion on retaining the £1,000 threshold regardless of complaints.

1The raising of the small claims limit was the first step in lowering the premiums of car insurance, which was triggered by fraudulent car accidents with “ghostly” injuries, namely whiplash injuries, which pay out greatly because it causes severe pain without physical manifestation.

Car insurance companies said that the disproportion of insurance claims to the number of car accidents authorities record is a sign that many fraudsters are taking advantage of the system, which leaves out those who really need their compensation.

According to the House of Commons transport select committee, now is not the time to raise the small claims limit because it will truly make it difficult for those genuinely in need of the insurance and can make it easier for fraudsters to again take advantage of the small claims courts despite having a smaller payout.

Medical Inspection and Check Up

Grayling mentioned that he wanted to make sure insurance companies will encourage their customers to get a medical survey before they get their compensation and share their data on suspected fraud cases to solicitors and lawyers to carry out more effective checks with their clients.

Experts said that by 2014, the UK will have its own independent specialist medical panels that would inspect whiplash cases and other car injuries involving soft tissue injuries. As soon as the government finally consults all concerned health bodies it would make a standardised form of reports and publish the scheme of the new system.

Implications

Lifting the small claims limit will allow insurers to challenge the claimant’s case in court. Grayling also mentioned that the court might lift information fees from lawyers, solicitors and insurance companies in an attempt to bring down the legal costs of challenging a claim.

Many insurers just recompense their customers because legal costs for challenging suspicious claims are more costly than the lump sum repayment they can provide. For more information about the claims process in the case of injury, click here.

Judge compromises over niqab for Muslim woman in dock

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 A judge who earlier in the month refused to allow a Muslim woman to wear her veil which covered the whole of her face has now made a compromise allowing the woman to wear it apart from times where she is giving evidence to the court. The compromise ruling made by Judge Peter Murphy is a first and has set a precedent on the wearing of a niqab in court during criminal proceedings.

The woman in question who has been named as only D in the case has pleaded as not guilty to accusations of witness intimidation while wearing the religious veil. She said that it is contrary to her religious beliefs to show her face to the public and so the judge made special arrangements which involve screening her from public view when she is asked to reveal her face during the proceedings.

The trial which is set to take place in November at Blackfriars crown court includes directions which will ban court room artists from drawing or sketching the defendant when she is not wearing her niqab. The only people who will be permitted to look at the woman’s face are the jury, legal counsel as well as the judge only when she is giving evidence.

The judge who accepted submissions both from the defence and the prosecutor stated that there was not clear precedent in existence which would bring a resolution to the matter. The judge commented at the uncertainty and reluctance to deal with the issue by saying that the religious veil had become “the elephant in the courtroom”. He took a stance on the religious garment by saying that women had a choice whether or not to wear the veil but this choice should nevertheless be respected by the judiciary as is the persons religious belief.

The issue in the circumstance which the judge had to address was striking a balance between the defendant’s right to a religious belief as protected by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the public interest which is involved in criminal cases. In the judgement it was made clear that the court has the right to impose restrictions on religious freedoms which are deemed to be necessary as was done by the European Court of Human Rights when they upheld a judgement banning a worker from wearing a cross at her place of employment on health and safety grounds.