Category Archives: The Legal Profession

UK Lawyers: “Don’t put Spotlight on Dubai”

DubaiUK lawyers have warned against putting the spotlight on Dubai as an international centre of arbitration. The comments come ahead of a seminar due to take place next month with the intention of promoting Dubai as a place to settle legal disputes.

The seminar is being developed with the involvement of the British Irish Commercial Bar Association (BICBA), cooperating with the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC) and the University of Dubai. David Casement QC, the chair of the BICBA, is also among the event’s speakers. The goal of the event is to promote Dubai and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a whole as a “world centre in arbitration,” as well as to host discussions and generate proposals on how this position can be strengthened and how the Dubai legal system could develop in the future.

However, a number of legal professionals in the UK, including both solicitors and barristers, have criticised the aim of promoting Dubai as an international centre of justice. They say that there are serious problems with the legal system of the UAE, and that this kind of spotlight should not be shone on the region until they are resolved.

Critics of the seminar and its message point out that the High Court in England and Wales has ruled against allowing individuals to be extradited from the UK to Dubai. The grounding for this decision and for their criticisms, they say, is that the Dubai justice system has a history of problems such as corruption, violations of human rights, and denying access to justice.

Much of the criticism has come from Detained in Dubai, which is based in the UK but specialises in the civil and criminal justice systems of the UAE. The organisation described the seminar as “fuelling propaganda that Dubai has an equivelently competent justice system.” A partner at the organisation, non-practising solicitor David Haigh, said “I have practised law in both the UK and the UAE but unfortunately, I myself have first-hand experience of the legal system in Dubai. I was wrongfully imprisoned, arbitrarily detained.”

Haigh continued: “At present, until the UAE judicial system undergoes significant reform, the DIAC can by no means, be considered a just, independent, safe or modern dispute resolution centre.”

Doughty Street Chambers barrister Ben Cooper was also critical, saying that he “would not recommend” the BICBA help to portray Dubai as a centre of dispute resolution. He went on to say that “The UAE needs to address and remedy judicial failings before it should be considered as a possible legal jurisdiction of choice.”

New Software Solution Aims to Aid Legal Research

One of the harsh realities of legal work is the need to spend long, long hours researching past cases that may be relevant to current ones. Indeed, this requirement is one of the key reasons behind the long working hours and poor work/life balance that have come to almost define the role of a solicitor, especially in the City.

However, a new software solution is in development aimed specifically at helping the legal industry tackle this problem. The new tool aims to make the process of researching case law considerably faster and easier by making key information from relevant cases readily available through the intelligent handling of typed queries.

The tool is being developed by tech start-up Ross Intelligence. It is an artificial intelligence (AI) solution which aims to provide highly relevant results to user queries. This may sound like a specialist legal data base with a search function, but the developers of the software hope that using the most up-to-date developments in AI will make it something much more. Search queries can be entered in natural language, phrased in much the same way they would be addressed to a human colleague. Queries will, it is hoped, be analysed intelligently to provide information that is directly relevant, and it is intended that the system will be able to adequately deal with questions that are quite specific. It is based on the IBM Watson platform, an advanced system that uses natural language and machine learning principles to accurately identify relevant information in large and unstructured quantities of data.

According to Andrew Arruda, Ross Intelligence chief executive and co-founder, “Lawyers may know the law and where it stands on a particular issue today but many cases come out and it can change that so they’re always looking into the past to build the future.”

Arruda continued: “The issue with that is there’s just millions of cases. What our system is able to do is keep up to track with all these changes in the law so at a glance a lawyer can help their clients really, really efficiently.”

Arruda claims that lawyers using the system stand to cut their working time by up to 30%. This claim, he insists, is based on an accurate assessment of the amount of time that they currently spend researching through traditional databases, and how this compares to the amount of time it would take to perform equivalent research with his company’s system.

Ross Intelligence is based in the US, and is currently developing its AI system to answer queries relating to US case history. If the tool proves successful in delivering on its promises and is taken up by the legal industry in the USA, however, it seems likely that variants of the system or similar solutions will be created to help lawyers research case history in other countries.

Representing Clients from Out of the Country- 3 Common Situations

Let’s say you are practicing law in Australia. As you know, there are more people who are not from Australia than those who were born there. Being a large and beautiful nation/continent, with diverse flora and fauna, not to mention cultural attractions, places like this have a tremendous number of tourists showing up on their shores. Tourists are notoriously unaware of local laws and customs, at least that’s what the stereotype would have us believe. As such, they frequently work themselves into pickles with the law, meaning that you might one day find yourself representing the legal interests of someone who lives overseas.

So, if you get contacted after a worried tourist finds your contact information after Googling “criminal lawyers in Sydney”, don’t be shocked. It happens everyday, but representing someone from out the country presents its own unique challenges. Being in touch with multiple lawyers and studying this phenomenon as a hobby of my own, here are three of the most common issues I see.

  • Time. Because many of these individuals do not reside in the nation where they are standing trial, they need to get away to take care of things back home. This can present a challenge. Depending on the severity of the charge, they may be restricted in their movement across the country, as flight risk is a serious concern. Depending on the severity of the infraction, this may not be a consideration, but the defendant’s responsibilities back home certainly are. As such, the process may be permitted to be expedited. In fact, this is what I would recommend for anyone representing such a client. Get it over with as fast as possible, try to reduce it to a fine, do what you can to get the client’s life back to normal as soon as possible.
  • Money. International exchange of currency may present a difficulty when representing a foreign client. In general, I try to recommend my clients the cheapest possible currency transfer services, but sometimes there simply isn’t money to spare. In situations like this, there may be remuneration on the part of the state, or a situation which allows your client to more or less go free, pending specific action.
  • Language Barrier. In addition to ignorance of local law and custom, your client may not speak the local language. This may present a difficulty, but it may help your client to be able to get home without too much trouble also. If it can be argued to your judge that a client and the wronged party would be better served to let the client return home, then this is a desirable outcome. If the case must be brought to trial, then necessary translation services must be obtained, and the defendant made aware of his or her rights and the details of the case.

Travelers get in trouble overseas all the time, but this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be well-represented. Acquaint yourself with the details of their situation, and you and they should be able to move beyond the present trial without too much trouble.

Senior Judge Praises Televised Pistorius Trial

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.”

Black Lawyers Still Underrepresented in South African Legal System

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.

British Courts Give Most Generous Payouts for Divorces

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.

Justice Minister promotes Magistrates Courts

Up to 40% of those sentenced at the crown court could equally have been dealt at an earlier stage by the magistrates court says Damian Green, Minister for Policing and Justice. Figures have been published stating that every 4 in 10 people could have been handed a sentence at a magistrates thus saving money and valuable time according to a speech due to be read this Wednesday by the justice minister. In his speech which is addressed to the magistrates, Mr Green is to state that a greater effort is needed from their behalf to ensure that cases are dealt with in the correct court and not be meaninglessly transferred. This event will kick off a further three scheduled events prior to a consultation which will take place assessing the role of the magistrates later in the year.

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The plans are set to contribute towards a change in the criminal system and the way the courts operate. The overhaul will aid the magistrates by easing them off workload such as minor traffic offences which will be resolved outside the normal process in addition to introducing new powers for magistrates in order to deal with reoffending figures. Prior to making the speech the justice minister stated that magistrates are vital in the English legal system and are an example of a good citizen. In saying that the system is privileged to have such individuals he gave magistrates the credit for dedicating their time, skills and expertise against no cost. In his latest statement he did not hesitate to comment on the statistic by saying that 4 out of 10 people who were given a jail term in the crown court could also have been given the same by a magistrates. He explained that the government will look into why this is a common occurrence and if need be, do more in order to fully benefit from such volunteers.

The justice minister said that in order to have and maintain a fair and modern justice system the judiciary needs to hear the right cases in the appropriate court. Mr Green is anticipated to state that magistrates are to allocate their time on communal cases which make a greater difference to the local community. He commented that in simple road traffic offence cases where the defendant does not dispute the matter in question and where he may not even be present at the case, there is no need for 3 magistrates to spend their time looking at such a case.

Using a Recruitment Agency to Find a Legal Job in a Difficult Economy

Economists are currently warning that the United Kingdom may slip into a trip dip recession. This would be a serious concern for many people looking for new work. Prospective lawyers are not immune to the challenges job seekers face during a tough economy. However, you can still find a good legal job if you take the right steps.

Here are some tips that you can follow when looking for a new legal job

Consider visiting a recruitment agency to see if they can help you out. They provide a number of great services for anyone looking for work. They can negotiate with potential employers on your behalf.

The recruitment agency can also help you get all your documents in order. Your curriculum vitae (CV) is one of the most important documents you will need to have updated when you are going to be looking for any legal job. Your CV should detail all your most recent work experience, publications you’ve made and any certifications you hold. Some lawyers haven’t updated it in several years. They may be missing out some key information.

Many people wonder which recruitment firm they should work with. Most people are surprised when recruitment agencies tell them to work with other firms as well. Recruiters say that there may not be as much overlap between the job opportunities as job seekers may think.

Recruit

All job applicants should use three to four recruitment agencies. That way they will be able to get the most traction from them without spreading themselves too thin trying to manage relationships with all of them.

Many recruitment agencies specialize in working with lawyers. Some agencies you may want to look at include Robert Half Legal and Kelly Services. These firms are highly rated by attorneys who have worked with them in the past.