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.

Elderly at Risk as PPI and Accident Claims Calls Rise

A new initiative is being launched in South Wales to help to the elderly protect themselves against scam phone calls. The rise in the number of PPI claims has made auto-generated calls commonplace. But with firms exercising similar tactics in the accident claims market, the calls have become more than just a nuisance. So, specialist in care, Home Instead are trying to do something about it.

Many of the calls claims firms make are genuine. Acting upon information received, they are providing a public service. Letting victims know that they may be entitled to compensation can ease their suffering.

But there are firms who take this ‘tactic’ to the extreme. They buy databases that include the contact details of likely candidates, but have no real sense of duty in mind.

Nor do they possess any real sense of any injury or accident that could instigate a claim. They plug all the database info into a software program and let auto-dial do the rest.

Non-personalisation is becoming more than a nuisance

If it was simply a case of putting the phone down on the auto-generated message, we could live with it. But Home Instead, a national chain of homes for the elderly, have seen first hand where claims firms are going beyond ‘inconvenience’.

Some of the calls are placed by fraudsters with only one intention in mind: to get people to part with their debit or credit card numbers.

Many of us who’ve been brought up in the connected age know never to give this information out. Even banks and building societies forward messages saying that they’ll never ask for this info over the phone.

But some elderly victims are proving to be less acute at spotting bogus PPI and accident claims. They’re more trusting than millennials, making them prime prey for unscrupulous crooks.

The message is: never give your card details out unless you are 100% certain of the caller’s origin. If you’re in and around Swansea today, you’ll find the next Home Instead course at Reynoldston Village Hall between 2-3pm this afternoon.

What chance when the elderly are victims in their own home?

It’s not just over the phone that the elderly need to take precautions. In Sunderland last week, a care worker was found guilty of robbing a pensioner of almost £2,000.

Kate Watson was responsible for the ongoing care of a 74-year pensioner. And what she is guilty of just underlines how naive the elderly can be.

Kate would take the pensioner’s debit card and withdraw cash from the victim’s account for her own personal. It wasn’t as if the pensioner had placed her carer in a position of trust and asked Kate to withdraw money on their behalf.

The defendant told the court that the pensioner had left the PIN number ‘just lying around’. Finding the card, then matching the two had represented no barrier to the thief.

All told, Watson stole £1,911 from the elderly victim, and was ordered to repay the money. But at a repayment rate of only £40/month (and interest free), in this instance crime does seem to have paid.

Crash-for-Cash scam busted; Direct Line chasing £600k fraud case

One of the most elaborate ‘crash for cash’ scams uncovered by insurers has been derailed this week. In total, claims could have risen to £1.3M had all been paid out.

But Chester CID apprehended John Christopher Smith, MD of Swift Accident Solutions, before all of the 218 referrals received compensation.

Smith, of North Wales, is now beginning a six-and-a-half year jail sentence as the orchestrator of the scam. In all, Judge Andrew Blake convicted another 13 people for their part.

First Direct suspicious of similarity

First Direct first noticed a pattern when investigating a series of incidents involving First Group buses in and around Chester. The similarity was striking, and it was this similarity that drew suspicion.

In all, there were seven staged ‘crashes’. Drivers of vans or cars would wait for a scheduled bus to pull out then gently bump into it. The incidents happened at low speed and the driver of the van or car would admit liability.

How did that work, then? The ingenious part of the scam was that people on the bus itself were in on it. As soon as the collision took place, they would feign their injuries.

Whiplash and soft-tissue injury cited as the cause of injury

Soft tissue and whiplash injuries were the modus operandi. These were the obvious choice as such injuries are difficult to prove.

These scammers informed their GPs that they’d been in a collision and they’d then issue a sick note. The fakers would then take along their doctor’s note with the claim, Smith would refer them and collect the referral fee.

On average, Smith was pocketing around £900 per no-win, no-fee referral. 177 cases in all are adjudged to have been processed in this manner.

During the period that he was running the scam, a little over a year, it’s estimated he grossed £159,000. He was jailed on fraud and conspiracy charges that could have risen to over £1M if they’d gone unchecked.

Rachel Cooper, the last member of the gang to be tried for the scam, escaped a custodial sentence. The 32-year old from Great Sutton escaped with an 18-month suspended sentence.

She did, however, receive an order to undertake 250 hours unpaid work as a repayment of her debt to society.

£600,000 fraud case brought by Direct Line

Elsewhere, Max Clifford is once again in the media for all the wrong reasons. This time, however, it’s not the publicity guru in the dock.

Clifford was filmed in a coffee shop with Kevin Morgan, a former manager from Weybridge, who was himself under surveillance.

Morgan was in a ‘low impact’ accident in 2005. But the injuries he sustained have deteriorated to the extent that he can no longer live a normal life. Both psychiatrist and the original doctor’s statements seem to support Mr Morgan’s defence.

Direct Line, however, still became suspicious. Between 2009-2012, the insurers placed Morgan under surveillance.

On ten of those occasions, he was seen to leave the house. Any signs of the reported spasms in his neck didn’t materialise. Moreover, the prosecution commented that his demeanour in court was completely different to that on film.

Mr Morgan said that he has both good and bad days. It was on one of the good days that he was filmed in the coffee shop with Mr Clifford.

Whole livelihood on the line

Direct Line have now taken Morgan to court to try to claim £600,000 fraud, suggesting that the injuries the victim sustained have been exaggerated.

His defence is arguing that the evidence supports the ex-manager’s claim. Morgan can now only live a ‘retired lifestyle’, a far cry from the handyman he was before the accident occurred.

The limitations are such that Mr Morgan now exists within a 1,350ft radius from around his once ‘immaculate’ home. The meeting in the coffee shop falls within that territory.

Mr Morgan has also spoken out against Direct Line’s heavy-handed approach. He likened his treatment to being ‘on a murder charge’.

Despite the fact that he could lose his home if he’s found guilty of fraud, Morgan insists that he wants this opportunity to clear his name.

MoD awards £709,000 personal injury compensation award

Industry news roundup: week ended 6 April 2015:

Here’s one that’s going to make you question your sanity: the Ministry of Defence just paid out £709,000 in personal injury compensation for a case of bullying.

Now calm down, it’s not ‘just’ bullying in this case. True, this award amount dwarfs some payments made to Armed Forces members that were injured so badly in the line of duty that they came back from Afghanistan or Iraq missing limbs, but the circumstances surrounding the case are tragic.

It turns out that Cpl Anne Marie Ellement, aged 30, took her own life in Wiltshire at Bulford Barracks in 2011 following prolonged and systemic psychological abuse. The deceased corporal suffered from work-related despair and the lingering effects of a rape she had allegedly been subject to, all of which played a role in her suicide, according to a recent inquest. Kind of hard to get all cross with the MoD after that comes to light, doesn’t it?

Still, being injured in the line of duty and seeking compensation isn’t like making a typical work accident claim. The ministry has very strict and perhaps overly-complicated guidelines set down by Parliament. Meanwhile, there have been more and more of these bullying cases as related to the Armed Forces, and the Government announced late last year that there’s going to be an investigation into the matter in order to suss out how allegations of abuse are handled by the MoD.

The impetus for the new watchdog group? Cpl Ellement’s death. I’m hoping that at least the fact that this new watchdog was inspired by this poor woman that found herself driven to suicide could mean that other Armed Forces personnel might be spared the same incredible emotional pain and suffering.

The worst part is that much of this bullying behaviour comes not from the enemy but our own troops. It’s reprehensible, and makes me absolutely ashamed of being British. I absolutely pray that things get better, and that Cpl Ellement’s untimely death turns out to not have happened in vain.

As for the bastards that drove her into this nightmare, don’t even get me started. I’m sure they’ll eventually get deployed somewhere even hotter and more uncomfortable than the desert when they meet their maker and have to answer to their crimes.

Cathedral sues NHS after £130,000 accident claim

Industry news roundup: week ended 30 March 2015:

A £130,000 accident claim has prompted a cathedral to sue the NHS for not properly treating the foot of a worshiper who was injured on church grounds.

So much for ‘turn the other cheek:’ Ripon Cathedral in North Yorkshire has sought to recover some of the £130,000 it paid out to worshiper Christopher Shepherd in a personal injury compensation claim after the man tripped and broke his foot just a few days before Christmas 2008. What looked to be an open-and-shut case of the cathedral being liable for the man’s injury soon blossomed into a major issue after medical negligence caused his foot injury to worsen to the point where Shepherd is now consigned to a wheelchair as he now has the inability to walk more than 100 yards without difficulty.

Ripon Cathedral agreed to pay out on Shepherd’s personal injury claims in 2013, but has since decided to try to recover its costs by bringing suit against the NHS. According to court documents, apparently Shepherd consulted with doctors at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust twice – first on Christmas Eve 2008 and then again on January 13th of the New Year, but was only finally diagnosed properly on March 18th of that year. The cathedral’s personal injury lawyers say that the NHS doctors should be held responsible for not diagnosing Shepherd’s injuries properly causing a delay so long that the injured man needed surgical procedures to fuse the bones of his foot – an act that left him with severely diminished mobility.

Now this, to me, represents a perfect example of medical negligence. The poor bastard made two trips to see NHS doctors and both times he was simply brushed off. Meanwhile his foot simply got worse and worse until he needed the painful, mobility-limiting surgery.  For what it’s worth, the NHS had a serious role in the extent of Shepherd’s injuries and should pay the price.

I’m not saying that the cathedral is off the hook; the initial injury took place on cathedral grounds so there is at least a modicum of liability there. But if Shepherd had gotten the treatment he needed immediately instead of months afterwards, the results would have been much less painful for him – and that would have led to a much smaller legal bill for Ripon Cathedral!

 

Here we go again with that old compensation culture argument

Industry news roundup: week ended 16 March 2015:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, that old chestnut of ‘compensation culture’ bankrupting insurers has gotten trotted out once more.

If there’s one thing that drives me absolutely barmy it’s listening to insurance providers whinge on and on about how they’re being victimised by everyone. Every once and a while when they don’t feel they’ve gotten enough attention as of late they’ll begin crying about how ‘compensation culture’ is ruining their injury, pointing to increased personal injury claims and greedy, ambulance chasing personal injury lawyers just draining their coffers dry.

The refrain began again this week, with big-time insurer Aviva saying that even though the number of road accidents has gone down by 30 per cent, personal injury claims are up by 62 per cent. Not only that but the insurer said that a full 96 per cent of road traffic accident claims were brought not directly by injured parties but by personal injury lawyers or claims management companies.

Now I need to interrupt right here. Do these insurers really believe they’re fooling anyone with the idea that people legitimately injured in car accidents should be representing themselves? What man or woman in their wildest flights of fancy would be able to sustain a personal injury case against a deep-pocketed insurer like Aviva, especially if the case involves the kinds of injuries that can leave you without the ability to work for weeks or even months?

In a case like that, there’s only one type of person you should be turning to if you’re injured, and it’s a personal injury solicitor. They’re not bloody ambulance chasers simply because they represent people who can’t represent themselevs; yes, they rely on no win no fee agreements to get paid, but that’s because the majority of their claimants don’t have any damned money because they’ve been unable to work for months and they’re just barely squeaking by on savings – or on the largesse of their family members.

Yes, I suppose that insurance fraud is a problem. I’m sure it always will be. But insurers like Aviva, who want to make it harder for the injured to bring lawsuits against them with the aid of a lawyer, are only protecting their own interests at the detriment of others.

Cumbria County Council pays massive accident claims bill

Industry news roundup: week ended 9 March 2015:

Cumbria County Council – already not exactly awash in funds – has had to pay a painfully massive £1.5 million accident claims bill over the last three years.

To make matters worse, the lion’s share of the personal injury claims have been on slips and trips where individuals fell on council roads or footpaths. An eye-watering £1.3 million of the total went to these types of accident claims; luckily some 77 per cent of claims lodged against the local authority didn’t succeed. Can you imagine the total bill if more had?

Still, people are not exactly chuffed about the figure. In fact, James Airey, the council’s Conservative leader, is up in arms about the issue, as he says that the problems that caused all these personal injury compensation cases could have been solved. Airey says that it’s a management issue, as it takes weeks to get pavement problems mended after they’ve been reported – and while he wouldn’t go so far as to call the council dreadful, he did say that the enormous payout could have been used to fill in an awful lot of holes.

Now I really can’t argue with the man, especially when it comes to getting potholes filled. That £1.5 million could have easily been spent on hiring more workers and getting teams out to mend all these massive cracks and potholes that can destroy car tyres and turn ankles. I can’t imagine that it would have taken even a fraction of that payout amount to get everything done.

At the same time, Cumbria County Council isn’t exactly swimming in cash at the moment. It’s not like the payouts come from the council itself – its insurance company ends up footing the bill – but it does mean that the council’s premiums are going to go up. And these fees are paid for out of taxpayer money, so it’s essentially costing local residents even more as they have to pay for the poor maintenance twice over. It’s a wicked, vicious cycle that shows no signs of abating anytime soon – and I just find that a bit depressing, don’t you?

14 years of suffering, £3m in personal injury compensation

Industry news roundup: week ended 23 Feb 2015:

Well it only took 14 years to get what she deserved, but a 24 year old who was injured in a pool accident at the age of 10 finally received her compensation.

It’s stories like this that make me wonder what in the world is wrong with the personal injury claims world. Poor Annie Woodland – she ended up suffering for over a decade as the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted because she nearly died during a school swim session. The long delay, apparently, was due to a dispute between whether Essex Council should be held accountable for her injuries even though she was under the cupervision of a contractor while she attended Gloucester Park Pool in Basildon.

The pool lifeguard didn’t manage to see the 10-year-old Woodland quite in time, managing to fish her out of the water but not before the young pupil suffering life-changing injuries. Now the 24 year old has been awarded some £3 million for her pain and suffering – and for the continuing care she will need since she suffered nearly dying from drowning in the pool, all because both the swim instructor and the lifeguard on duty couldn’t be arsed to keep track of the pupils using the bloody pool.

Still, all’s well that ends well, though the poor woman would most likely give up every last penny if it meant she didn’t have to spend the last 12 years of her life falling behind because of brain injuries related to her nearly fatal drowning. I can’t say that I wouldn’t make the same decision myself. I would much rather be whole and healthy than anything else in the entire world, £3 million be damned!

Of course, now everyone is going to say that this new legal development is going to have a so-called “chilling effect” on local authorities taking pupils on trips if they’re afraid of being held responsible for every little thing that happens on these outings. Well bollocks to that I say – if you’re going to be educating our children you should be responsible for them whenever they’re doing school-related don’t you think? It just sounds like common bloody sense!