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Appointment aims to preserve a tradition of justice for all

One of the most momentous appointments to Prime Minister Theresa May’s new cabinet was that of Elizabeth Truss as Justice Secretary and, by definition, Lord Chancellor. Ms Truss is the first woman to hold either post – a fact brought to the fore by the Lord Chief Justice. The judiciary is traditionally a male institution, despite strides made recently to address that fact, and the appointment brings with it both a message and a movement forwards.

Gone is the Liz Truss of DEFRA – lampooned for her enthusiasm for pork farming. The new Elizabeth Truss is a person of gravitas with responsibility for preserving this country’s tradition of justice for all.

• The MoJ is still bubbling with new processes and procedures. Following Jackson and LASPO, the introduction of fixed costs regimes and the furore over Legal Aid, there are proposals going forward for the establishment of an ‘online court’ for low-value monetary claims. The proposal, made in Lord Justice Briggs’s final report, is for a system akin to dispute resolution, with a judge making a determination. The Law Society, in its response to the Briggs report, placed its emphasis on the continuing role solicitors must continue to play in ‘helping clients navigate the new system and ensuring that they are able to access justice’.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 November 2016 10:28

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Was Queen’s Speech legislation distracted by referendum?

Everything stops for the Queen’s Speech. The State opening of Parliament has now fixed itself in May or early June, following the passing into law of the Fixed Term Parliament Act in 2011. That earlier timing – the event used to be later in the year unless there had been a General Election – still catches this writer on the hop.

One of the measures outlined by Her Majesty was the reform of the tax system for small donations to charity.

This will make it easier for smaller charities to claim back the tax on donations. The change comes as a welcome relief for the charity sector, which endured a bumpy ride last year – one commentator remarked after the Budget that the sector could be relieved if only because it wasn’t mentioned!

Nevertheless, legacy giving continues to form a major backbone of charities’ funding, with more organisations than ever mentioned in wills. That is according to research by Smee and Ford, the authoritative voice on the sector. Many of the extra names mentioned last year figured for the first time in a legatee’s wishes.

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 June 2016 09:35

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Are increased prosecutions a deterrent to fraud?

In December the National Audit Office (NAO) published the estimate by HMRC of how much was being lost to the exchequer due to tax fraud. The figure was £16 billion – almost half of the ‘tax gap’. HMRC placed a good deal of the responsibility for that fraud jointly at the doors of organised crime and small business.

HMRC has become more proactive in its tackling of such fraud, although the NAO was less than convinced of its claims regarding the deterrent effect of its increased prosecutions. According to the NAO, HMRC must make better use of the data at its disposal. Uncovering and tackling fraud is just one of the roles of the forensic accountant. They are at the forefront of the fight against financial crime – as well as uncovering the financial indicators of other major crimes. And it is an unexpectedly glamourous world, involving high-level sleuthing and the dogged pursuit of the truth.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 February 2016 16:00

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No let-up in 'special measures' recommendations for NHS trusts

There seems to be no let-up in the stream of NHS trusts hauled before the Chief Inspector of Hospitals to be condemned like heretics before the Inquisition. The latest to be recommended for 'special measures' was East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust.

The verdict follows a woeful series of similar stories. In September the national press latched onto a similar fate befalling the Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, administrator of the internationally-lauded Addenbrooke's Hospital.

What is particularly saddening about these stories is that nobody in their right mind thinks NHS staff set about wanting to be 'Inadequate', or turn up at work thinking they will do anything other than their level best to provide the best care for their patients. There is often what the Care Quality Commission describes as a 'disconnect' between staff and management, with management seeming to have little idea of what actually providing that care involves.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 October 2015 08:25

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Were conciliatory tones just for the occasion - or are we still gearing up for a fight over human rights?

Your Expert Witness blog logoThe legal world has been buzzing with the same subject over the last month as pretty well every other sector of professional life - that election result.

The Law Society had set out its own manifesto, detailing the changes it saw as being essential to the principal of access to justice. Like most of us, the society expected to be dealing with a new government that would include at least two parties - or if not, a minority government that would be vulnerable to third party pressure.

What it got was Michael Gove. It is widely expected that he has been brought in, along with his pugnacious style, to steer through the abolition of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a 'British Bill of Rights' that would not be beholden to Europe.

That course of action is opposed tooth and nail by the Law Society, which is gearing up for a fight.

At his installation as Lord Chancellor, however, both Mr Gove and the Law Society vice-president sounded uncharacteristically conciliatory. It remains to be seen whether the warmer tones were employed for the pomp of the occasion.

• One issue that has carried over from the last government is that of leasehold extension, the Right to Manage and freehold 'emancipation'. Former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles took an active interest in the issue.

He was also responsible for 'Florrie's Law', restricting the amount councils can charge leaseholders for repairs which are partly publicly funded. It is named after the tragic victim of an astronomical bill for repairs from a council - repairs which had not been costed and which, it turned out, didn't need doing anyway.

• While housebuilding has been the focus of construction activity in this country, at least from a political point of view, internationally there has been a massive burgeoning of infrastructure and major projects in some regions, including well known centres of activity around growing economies. With increased globalisation comes increased complexity around disputes.

To help contractors and major project managers and stakeholders make some kind of sense of what the issues are and where, lawyers Clyde & Co have published a heavyweight guide to dispute resolution across the globe. The watchword, as always, is to make sure you get the right expert advice.

• Here at Your Expert Witness we have been engaged in a campaign to encourage people to leave a legacy to charity in their will - after they have provided for their family and others close to them. The essential precursor to that, of course, is that they should make a will in the first place. Still, half of us haven't made a will, despite being harangued from all sides to do so.

The latest to jump on the soap box is the Ministry of Justice. Its Choice not Chance campaign is aimed at the younger adult age group - those least likely to have thought about such awkward subjects. In addition to encouraging will-writing, the MoJ campaign encourages young people to have 'that difficult conversation' with their parents regarding lasting power of attorney and to consider joining the Organ Donor Register.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 June 2015 13:05