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A salutary day for the press, but we’re not all bad.

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe Day of Judgement has arrived! At 2pm on 29 November Lord Justice Leveson began to deliver his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. The report makes salutary reading for those involved in the dissemination of information via the printed or broadcast word. The behaviour of a small number of newspaper journalists in flouting the law has led to the biggest inquiry into the ethics of the press in history.

There is heart to be taken from the fact that his Lordship did not reach the conclusion that the press have no ethics: that's something. Nor is there any kind of intimation that the great bulk of reporting and publishing within the local and trade press, as well as the lighthearted sort of journals that pack newsagents' shelves, have been hacking phones, offering bribes to policemen or hobnobbing with politicians.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2012 16:09


Judges might think they’re hard done by on pensions, but mine’s just disappeared!

Your Expert Witness blog logoSince I last posted this column a momentous event has occurred: I celebrated my birthday. To mark the occasion the Department of Work and Pensions sent me a letter telling me I had been selected by this Government to be among the first to be denied the state pension until I reach 66. In other words, the Government is going to filch a full year's pension from me in comparison to those who are just over a month older. It puts me in mind of the ne'er-do-wells who used to hang around near post offices waiting for the the old folk to emerge every Thursday.

With delicious irony, this act of daylight robbery was communicated to me soon after an article appeared in the Law Society Gazette by its editor-in-chief Paul Rogerson, on the subject of judges' pensions. Under the headline Stop moaning about your pension, m'lud, Mr Rogerson pointed to the unrest among the judiciary because of the scandalous notion that they may like to contribute a little more to their eventual retirement.

He wrote: "Judges have hitherto paid less than 2% of their salaries (in all but a few cases) to accrue a final salary pension at the rate of 1/40th for each year of service, up to 20 years. This is quite staggeringly generous. Let's say you're a judge earning £170,000 a year – halfway up the ladder. For a modest outlay of about £34,000 before tax at current prices, you can retire after 10 years' service on an annual pension of £85,000 for life."

The increased contribution will, it appears, be modest, but there is still talk of legal action.

Another issue causing consternation among the legal elite was the role or otherwise of the Legal Services Board, which seems to be following in the footsteps of Lord Jackson in thinking that if it upsets everybody it must be doing something right. First of all the chair of the Bar Council, Michael Todd QC, called for the abolition of the LSB, saying it had acted beyond its brief and was burdensome. His sentiments were echoed at the same meeting of the bar by Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who had raised the issue with the Justice Secretary.

Mr Grieve said: "The LSB is not exactly flavour of the month with any of the professions. I think there are justifiable concerns that it may at times tend towards micro-management. I do share the bar's concern with that."

No sooner had that attack been rebuffed by the MoJ than the president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, disagreed publicly with the LSB's chair in his Lord Upjohn Lecture to the Association of Law Teachers.

Speaking of the Legal Education and Training Review, His Lordship said: "I cannot share the view which David Edmonds was reported in The Guardian as expressing in March this year, namely that he would be 'extremely disappointed' if the LETR only made minor recommendations. That suggests a conclusion that major reform is both necessary and proportionate, reached in the absence of any evidence and analysis."

It seems the 'super-regulator', which overarches the regulatory bodies for the various legal professions, is getting it from all sides.

Chris Stokes

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 17:28

It’s a bad world to be growing up in; even if you can make yourself understood

Your Expert Witness blog logoIt's not been an edifying couple of weeks for anyone charged with investigating the truth of complaints of abuse by children, both contemporary and historical. The Jimmy Savile affair came hot on the heels of a multiple scandal involving the abuse of children in the Rochdale area – a scandal that is continuing, according to the co-ordinator of the council's crisis intervention team. Sara Rowbotham, an expert on sexual health among young people, told the Home Affairs Select Committee on 6 November that the abuse had started in 2004, not 2007, and that she had made 103 referrals of vulnerable people, yet there had only been nine convictions. The lessons have apparently not been learned and the abuse continues, according to Ms Rowbotham.

Another historical chapter of exploitation has also resurfaced: that concerning the Bryn Estyn children's home in Wrexham, which has seen allegations about figures as diverse as senior politicians and Savile himself being made. Again, there are claims that the investigation carried out in the early 1990s did not uncover the whole picture because its remit was not broad enough.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 November 2012 14:54


As LASPO hits the fan, the experts get a little hot under the collar

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe Jackson reforms are about to bite. Recently the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson told the Law Society that the legal profession faces a period of 'unprecedented change' with the implementation of LASPO, the Legal Services Act (LSA) and changes to the civil procedure rules.

"Each of these reforms on their own would present a challenge to the courts and the legal profession," he is reported to have said, but taken together they constitute a "massive change".

"Each carries the risk that, rather than improving access to justice, they will weaken and undermine it."

Last Updated on Friday, 19 October 2012 17:25


Mr Khan’s big plan to combat re-offending; and should the vices of plebs be legalised?

Your Expert Witness blog logoLabour's Shadow Justice Sadiq Khan has promised what he calls a "war on re-offending", aiming to cut the number of people who return to prison again and again. "Rehabilitation", he said, "is not soft on crime – it's tough on re-offending."

Re-offending costs the country £11bn per year, he said. One way to cut re-offending has been the restorative justice programme being used in Northern Ireland and held out by Mr Khan as a beacon, together with a 'triage' system being trialled in London.

It was all in line with what the Labour Party has believed for decades, in particular when he pointed to the appalling number of people with mental health problems who are languishing in prison – exchanging the Victorian asylum for the Victorian prison, he called it – and the number of women there for a first offence.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 October 2012 15:04