Bar Brawl Imminent as Legal Aid Cuts Deepen Divisions

The second round of cuts to Legal Aid was never going to win many fans. Both the solicitors fighting claims cases and the victims bringing them will suffer. Of that, there seems no contestable doubt.

Perhaps what the government didn’t expect was for such strong resistance, to both the cuts and dual contracts, from established chambers. But that’s what they face over the coming days and weeks.

Earlier this week, the Criminal Bar Association decided that action in protest to the cuts was not the way forward. The decision surprised many as 96% of the CBA‘s members had previously voted to take action.

The Law Gazette’s article reports that when it came to the crunch, the executive committee called time on possible ‘strike’ action. Instead, they voted 34-to-11 against ‘forego[ing] work in opposition’ to either the legal aid reforms or the continuation of dual contracts.

Can the mould now be broken?

Now that the CBA has failed to stand up to government at all, the fear is that legal welfare will be decimated. At least that’s the view of Michael Mansfield QC, whose Mansfield Chambers has ‘broken rank’. The Chambers has called for an emergency meeting amongst the CBA’s membership, for which there’s already support.

The CBA has voiced empathy, acknowledging ‘the difficulty solicitors face’. Yet that they won’t actually do anything to resist the government will leave many members puzzled, if not isolated and vulnerable.

Mansfield Chambers is now questioning whether those who voted in favour of action had their hearts in it. Maybe the 96% hoped that the threat of action was enough to force the CBA’s hand, but the U-Turn stands for now.

If Mansfield Chambers gets the support of 50 members, the number it needs to call the emergency meeting they’re touting as ‘imperative’, the original threat of action may yet to turn to deed.

Is strike action a case of the law industry crying Woolf?

Mansfield’s mob is not only the breakaway bunch calling for a time-out to assess the depth of Legal Aid cuts, either.

Labour’s Dianne Abbott also warned of her fears of the Reforms’ impact in relation to availing access to aid for those who need it most. During her Fiona Woolf lecture, few were safe from criticism, including her own political party.

Dame Woolf herself addressed the need for diversity in the legal profession at the Chancery Lane venue. The former lord mayor and president of the Law Society made her business case for a broader representation in law from across society.

And this was precisely Abbott’s point. She stated that many High Street lawyers in Hackney and London, where she has her own aspirations to be mayor, are of the diverse ethnicity courts need to mirror society.

The cuts to Legal Aid not only threaten access to those solicitors for those with justifiable claims. But without those clients, lawyers’ very practices and livelihoods are also under threat.

HMCTS to shed 2½% of its workforce in one fell swoop (okay, maybe two)

And to round off today’s summary of cuts, perhaps the Courts’ Service has aspirations of leading by example, itself. With the Ministry of Justice under pressure to further trim the fat (by almost £250M), HM Courts and Tribunal Service has announced it’s shedding 400 jobs.

200 of those positions will go as a natural consequence of employees leaving or retiring. They won’t be replaced.

There’ll also be a voluntary exit scheme, which the MoJ hopes entices the other 200 excess staff to take ‘voluntary early departure’.

Earlier this week, Sir Leveson paved the way for a more efficient British criminal justice system. His keynote at the Modernising Justice Through Technology conference called for less paperwork, more digital case files.

This, unsurprisingly, was the exact reason a HMCTS spokesman gave for the job cuts. Smart move. Deflect the blow of job cuts to the Queen’s Bench and show lawyers that you’re practising what you preach? Now that’s fighting talk.

Smiler blame could take years; in India, 5k+ claims resolved in a day

World’s apart. In the UK, an eminent fellow opines over the future of Alton Towers’ fated rollercoaster. Yes, the ride could reopen. But blame would have to be found, proved and corrected. The moral dilemma of reopening the ride would be in the hands of Merlin Entertainment.

In India, a judge calls for drastic measures to shake up the process of motor accident compensation payouts. Two years is the average. On Saturday, the Lok Adalat, the People’s Court, resolved 5,075 cases in one sitting, some stretching back five or six years.

Staffordshire, England: Could Smiler rollercoaster reopen in time?

The real cause of the Alton Towers Smiler tragedy may not be known for several years. That’s according to Dr Tony Cox, who’s not discounting the ride opening again in the future.

Whether it does will depend on the evidence the HSE uncovers. The problem is, the scope is so wide.

Dr Cox, a fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, offered a pragmatic view of the job the investigators face. At this stage, the design of the ride, its mechanical function or, as is looking more likely, human error could have been the major contributory factor.

How the ride came to be life-threatening remains unclear for now. But the fellow said that, from his experience, if there’s a technical fault, the source normally surfaces in the end.

Getting into the nuts and bolts of the issue

Unlike human error, from a mechanical perspective there is a finite number of things that can go wrong. What Dr Cox wouldn’t be drawn on is how long it would take to check all of the conceivable failures.

Even then, unless the combination of factors points to a single cause, blame will be difficult to prove.

Once the fault is detected, and subsequently corrected, he said that physically there’s nothing stopping the rollercoaster operating in the future. The moral standpoint of reopening Smiler, he countered, was another question entirely.

With compensation claims from the four seriously injured passengers on the front row alone expected to run into millions, the financial cost of the ride may also impact Alton Towers’ decision to run “Smiler” again.

Bengaluru, India: Sweeping decision clear 10% of outstanding motor accident claims

And speaking of taking an eternity to process accident claims, there’s been an astonishing development in India, Bengaluru to be precise.

Last week, Judge Ch K Durga Rao spoke to The Hindu newspaper about the serious backlog of motoring accident claims rife in their region.

Contravening the Motor Vehicles Act (1988), many compensation claims were taking, on average, two years to get through the civil courts.

Part of the problem is the claims forms process. Not the actual original reports. But because there are ‘several agencies’ involved in getting a claim from the insurer to court, the time lapse has caused the Supreme Court to intervene.

Judge Rao, who’s the chair of the DLSA, wants the process expedited much quicker. That may come in the future, but the Lok Adalat, the People’s Court, were in no mood to wait that long on Saturday morning.

The Lok Adalat is a justice-carrying system developed in India. It offers mediation and resolution as an alternative to the courts. Every now and again, when such a bottleneck occurs in the court system, India will hold a national Lok Adalat.

On Saturday, they did just that. In all, over 5,700 claims were settled, roughly 10% of all of the state’s claims. The total payout was in the region of £8.5M.

So successful was this last court, different types of disputes will be handled in this manner every month.

So, if you’re in Bengaluru on July 11th and have a dispute with the Public Utility providers, make your way to the National Lok Adalat. You may get your dispute settled en masse, rather than wait for your claim to go to the official court.

Alton Towers: prosecutions expected over Smiler calamity

Instead of spending her 20th birthday in Tenerife as planned, rollercoaster crash victim Vicky Balch was in hospital. After having her legs crushed, but saved by NHS staff after being air-lifted to Royal Stoke Hospital, Vicky remains in a critical condition. Her injuries, whilst substantial, are not thought to be life-threatening.

Vicky was one of four people seriously injured in last Tuesday’s rollercoaster collision. Her boyfriend, Daniel Thorpe and first-time-daters Joe Pugh and Leah Washington (18 and 17, respectively) were the others on the front row of the ill-fated carriage.

I thought I was a goner

After 2½ suspended in mid-air awaiting rescue, Daniel also had to have emergency surgery. He was taken to University Hospital in Coventry, where staff operated on his broken leg and punctured lung.

Daniel is now stable. But he’s recounted that upon the approach to the ‘stuck’ carriage into which theirs piled, he thought he was a “goner”.

Joe Pugh, who suffered two broken legs, is also out of danger. He’s taken to twitter to thank everyone for their kind wishes and support.

17-year old has leg amputated

The youngest victim, Leah Washington, also went through the mill whilst waiting to be freed from crumpled carriage.

According to one witness, during her four-hour ordeal she fainted, had to have morphine and a blood transfusion whilst the emergency services did what they could for the stranded passengers.

The same witness told The Sun how “doctors and firemen were covered” in blood during the rescue attempt.

Unfortunately, their attempts weren’t enough to save one of Miss Washington’s legs, which has since had to be amputated.

She, like the Vicky Balch, now faces a tough rehabilitation battle ahead.

Alton Towers: not usually Fawlty

A spokesman for Alton Towers was quick to call upon Alton Towers’ “strong safety record”. However, their statement read that the accident was deeply regrettable.

Their priority now is to ensure that failsafes are tightened to ensure this never happens again.

Three other rides across the country have been closed until new measures are put into place. Saw (Thorpe Park), Dragon’s Fury and the Rattlesnake (both at Chessington World of Adventures) are closed until further notice.

Human Error as much to do with crash as mechanics

Since then, an ex-employee has come forward stating that human error is to blame, rather than mechanical.

Before a carriage is allowed n the track, its wheels have to be warmed up. In order to garner the traction needed, the carriages should contain water-filled dummies.

Three recent tests using empty carriages have seen them stuck in a similar manner to that which caused the Alton Towers tragedy.

In any event, the ex-employee related that there are 15 CCTV cameras that monitor the Smiler ride. Even if the test carriage did get stuck, staff should have spotted it.

Lawyers are due to meet with Merlin Entertainment, who own Alton Towers. As well as compensation, there is a strong possibility of criminal prosecution, according to one of the lawyers acting for one of the victims.

The investigation has been passed to the HSE for the time being.

Alton Towers reopened today for the first time since the tragedy. It has been reported that the park lost around £2.5M during its closure. That figure may well pale into significance once the clients’ compensation is decided in court.

Why holiday cover is about more than Factor 30

Recent Thomas Cook headlines surrounding the death of two young children in Corfu nine years ago have made grim reading. That image of the dilapidated boiler that leaked the carbon monoxide that overcame Christi and Bobby Shepherd in 2006 accompanying the media coverage? It’s a stark reminder that what we class as acceptable in the UK often misses the mark abroad.

As a result of such evidence, the Coroner’s Court in Wakefield ruled that the seven and six-year old children were unlawfully killed. Moreover, that the holiday firm had breached their duty of care.

CPS to re-examine the evidence

Although a Greek court acquitted Thomas Cook of any responsibility for the deaths in 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service is going to re-examine the evidence. Thomas Cook has stated that, with this verdict, a cross-examination was expected and that the firm will support any new examination.

Given the revelations on Watchdog last week, detailing the continued lack of care and attention Thomas Cook showed the grieving family after the event, that support may smack of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The Greek court did make a conviction in this case. The manager of the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel and two of the staff were convicted of manslaughter (via negligence).

However, it does beg the question:

who is responsible for your safety on a package holiday?

Providing you book through an accredited travel agent, the airline will cover you for all international flights. It’s not something they offer as a courtesy. There’s a statute in place that covers all international air travel: The Montreal Convention (1999).

For the vast majority of conceivable injuries, whether you’re actually in the air or grounded, The Convention covers passengers’ safety.

There’s a reason we say “provided you’ve booked through an accredited travel agent”. That’s because it’s they who have a Duty of Care for your travelling party, including luggage. Should mishaps occur, they’ll set about organising any compensation due, for which they themselves will be covered.

The travel operator’s Duty of Care doesn’t end when you disembark your flight. They accept responsibility for your welfare for the duration of your vacation.

Self-booking/Extreme Sports Vacations

Many people nowadays book their own flights and hotel accommodation. As such, you’re appointing yourself as your own tour operator, to a certain extent. Therefore it’s imperative you take out appropriate insurance to cover you for your time abroad.

For those who like whitewater rafting, snowboarding, ski-jumping – anything active that may incur greater risk – you should take out specialist insurance. As there’s greater risk of personal injury, so the cost of cover rises.

For now, we’ve got the NHS just a phone call away should anything go wrong at home. Most countries do not have such a health service, nor are they obliged to speak English.

Yes, the travel operator is ultimately responsible for your safety. But that doesn’t mean you should take everything for granted. Most of us only get one vacation a year. Don’t let an accident abroad ruin it for you.