Legal Aid and Discrimination in the Workplace

Caitlyn Martin (student)

In 2018, more than a quarter of British employees said that at some point they had experienced discrimination in the workplace. The equality watchdog has warned that the current legal aid system is enabling employers to get away with discrimination. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that more needs to be done to protect employees.

As access to legal advice and lawyers has been cut by £950m a year due to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013, the commission has said that places of employment that continue to discriminate on grounds of sex, religion and race effectively still go unpunished as people are forced to represent themselves. This act is responsible for introducing a mandatory telephone gateway service for legal aid and removed employment tribunal representation from its scope.

David Isaac, the commission’s chairman, said: “Legal aid was specifically set up to ensure that those who have been wronged, but cannot afford their own legal representation, can access justice. The threat of legal action is a powerful deterrent for perpetrators and makes it clear that society will not tolerate injustice. Challenging such complex issues as discrimination should never be a David vs Goliath battle, and the system is failing if individuals are left to fight cases themselves at an employment tribunal or in court”.

The average worker does not earn enough to pay privately for a solicitor but is deemed to earn too much to qualify for legal aid.

At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), students offer free legal advice on employment matters to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800.

Lawyers urge that mental health should be prioritised in family law children’s cases

Curtis Dunkley (Student) 

 

Legal aid is rarely available for family law cases, meaning that most people now have to represent themselves in Court. Solicitor’s argue that significant changes are required to the way these cases are dealt with, so that mental health can be prioritised in the family courts Lawyers are urging for more focus to be on Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) like mediation, to help parents and children avoid the stress of court. 

Family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell (a leading national firm) say that these changes are essential to ensure that the experience has a positive effect rather than a detrimental one on the wellbeing and mental health of anyone who requires the assistance of the family court.  

The former CEO of Cafcass Anthony Douglas was quoted in an interim report on the Child Arrangement Programme (CAP) as saying “court has become the default option for too many unhappy separators”. This suggests that mediation is not being used effectively. 

Since the withdrawal of legal aid, the amount of litigants-in-person has risen substantially: during the 2017/18 financial year the number of parties in private law cases with private representation was 36%, compared to the 2012/13 financial year where the number was 58%. Legal experts say this has increased the pressure on the courts, the professionals and, most importantly all the parties involved. 

The Rt Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, recently urged all those who work in the family courts to concentrate on wellbeing with other professionals pointing out that the current system is unsustainable. 

Irwin Mitchell say that the overall focus should be the mental health and wellbeing of people going through the process. 

Experts argue that the best approach to move forwards is to consider solutions that resolve matters outside of court, whether it is mediation, arbitration, conciliation, or another route. This would help ease the stress of the process for the parties involved and most importantly, the children. 

At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), students offer free legal advice on family matters and a number of other issues to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800 

 

National Pro Bono Week

Emma Morgan (Student)

This week is Pro-Bono week, which promotes and supports people who provide free legal advice to those most in need. It is part of a global celebration of pro bono that takes place every year.

Students from Staffordshire University offer free legal advice to members of public as part of their law degrees, this helps prepare them for their future careers. This year SULAC students are taking part in the Law School Challenge, hoping to raise as much money as possible for Law Works and Advocate to enable Pro- Bono activities continue in the future.

This also enables the students to spread the word about the hard work and dedication they have put into their studies in order to help members of the public. The students are already well underway with their fundraising for the Law school challenge with the first event already completed and the next one being organised; the students are keen to beat last year’s total. There is also a fundraising page where you can support our cause :

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=ScalesofJusticeSULAC&pageUrl=1

Staffordshire University legal Advice Clinic is open and currently at Stoke Combined Court, Signpost Stafford, County Hospital and Stoke hospital, YMCA and HMP Stafford. If you would like any more information or to book an appointment, please contact us on SULAC @staffs.ac.uk or telephone 01782294800

Ministry of Justice closing 77 courts in 7 years.

On the 16th of October 2019, the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service informed the Public Accounts Committee that 40% of courts are still being used for less than half their total available time. She alleges that more than two-thirds are situated within five miles of another court.

In September the Ministry of Justice revealed that they are planning on closing around 77 court and tribunal buildings over the next 7 years. The idea is that the money that will be saved will go towards modernising the remaining courts. HMCTS has already closed 127 sites in England and Wales since 2015. Between 2010 and 2015 around 140 buildings were also shut.

When these Courts were closed inaccurate information was used to assess the impact on Court users. Ms Acland-Hood suggests that this time they will look at the real travel distances for the individuals who use the courts.

Acland-Hood stated that access to justice remains the priority when considering the closure of courts although given the significant delays already being experienced by Court users it is questionable whether this can be achieved if further closures are made.

HMCTS were questioned on how the Magistrates and Crown courts were to manage if the government’s 20,000 extra police officers plan was to go ahead as this would result in more cases coming through the system. It was acknowledged that if there was a significant increase in cases there would be a problem.

Access to justice is already problematic. Further closures can only make this situation worse. SULAC offers free legal advice to members of the public in Stoke and Staffordshire. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

One million workers are being denied their rights

Hannah Lewis (Student)

A think tank called the Resolution Foundation claim as many as one in twenty British workers do not receive any holiday pay despite being entitled to the same. There are recorded to be 32 million people in the British workforce and the foundation suggests that at least one million people across the country are being denied their rights in one form or another. The report produced by Resolution First shows that workers are being failed by employers and despite the government taking steps to increase the resources of the HMRC and other bodies, it is largely up to the individuals of these injustices to hold their firms to account. More than 100,000 applications were made to the employment tribunal system in 2018.

Economists fear that job security is being undermined as the power of the trade union declines and the law fails to keep up with the changing employment landscape since the last recession. Although unemployment has fallen in Britain to the lowest levels since the 1970’s a rise in the use of the zero-hour contracts and employment through agencies has led to an abuse of workers’ rights. It is workers aged under 25 and over 65 that are most likely to be affected by violations of legal entitlements. The research shows that almost one in ten workers did not receive a payslip, which is a legal requirement. It is employees at the end of their working life that are the most likely to not receive payslips. The HMRC recorded 200,000 cases of workers not receiving minimum wage in 2018, the majority of those being at the beginning of their working career.

The British government have made many rules and regulations to control the labour market and ensure fairness to its workers. However, these rules are only as good as the agencies that have the power to enforce them. Violations remain a common feature of the job market and millions of people are missing out.

SULAC is a free legal advice clinic provided by final year law students at Staffordshire University. We can offer legal advice on all areas of employment law. Please call 01782 2944800 for an appointment.

 

‘More people need educating on Power of Attorney rights’

Bissmah Tariq (Student)

The Government’s Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) have announced a drastic rise in investigations into people with Lasting Power of Attorney over the 2017/18 period.

There have been many complaints of Lasting Power of Attorney misuse with a drastic rise in investigations of 45% over the past year. The majority of the investigations were carried out due to concerns from close relatives, local authorities, care homes, financial institutions and legal professionals.

Friends and relatives often accept the responsibility to make financial or health decisions on behalf of relatives or friends who no longer have the mental capacity to do so.

Since many do not fully understand what they are getting themselves into, this has led to people either accidentally or deliberately making mistakes such as not keeping clear records and wrongly gifting or taking money.

Royal London, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, strongly encourage people to educate themselves on their responsibilities when they agree to act under a Lasting Power of Attorney.

Helen Morrissey, personal finance specialist at the insurance and pensions firm, said: “When done properly the attorneys fulfil a vital role in safeguarding the interests of the person they are acting for. But the sheer number of investigations into their actions is concerning and something needs to be done to curb poor practice.”

Someone agreeing to be appointed under a lasting power of attorney has a legal duty to help make important life decisions on behalf of the individual even when he/she lacks mental capacity. It is strongly recommended that you keep clear and well written records and bank statements as evidence of expenditure to protect your position.

For further advice on powers of attorney please contact SULAC (Staffordshire University Legal advice clinic. Our team of academics and qualified and experienced Solicitors have experience in this particular area and can provide you with free legal advice. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

Are Employers Disregarding our Freedom of Expression and our Right to Privacy?

Qadir Mohammed (Student)

Arguments made by Professor Virginia Mantouvalou of UCL state that courts and employers are excessively harsh on those they employ in relation to posts they broadcast online.

Social media is a dimension which is changing our lives in many ways. These changes can be both positive and negative. A post put up by an employee can affect a business, so it is no wonder employers choose carefully who they wish to employ as those working for them usually reflect their business image. An unnecessary controversy is something businesses do not want to deal with.

Social media posts will never please everyone though. For example, a post may be seen as stupid or offensive by one person, but another may see nothing wrong with it. This topic is very subjective, so how can a distinction be made? And are the consequences that follow proportionate to what has occurred?

Angela Gibbin’s story is one such example that is embroiled in controversy. Angela was employed by the British Council, when she commented on a Facebook photo of Prince George saying “white privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he is royal, rich advantaged and will never know any difficulties or hardships in life”. Her comment got a mixed reaction from the public after her post went viral once it was published by the Sun and she later lost her job due to gross misconduct. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal, which was dismissed. Professor Mantouvalou claims that tribunals often disregard the fact that employees have a right to free speech and privacy.

The expectation of privacy has been diminishing in the employment sector due to the fact employees are ordered to comply with their employer’s social media policy. Professor Mantouvalou’s view is that we should use the standard test of proportionality set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 10 is another piece of legislation which ties into this topic and details our freedom of expression. Employers should acknowledge this and allow their employees to make critical comments of others and voice their political views without fear of consequences.

Employment is not the only place where social media comments are being used. They are now also being admitted in evidence in Court and can sometimes sway a judge into a decision which can cause unequal and unfair results.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic can offer free legal advice on employment issues as well as other areas such as personal injury, family and probate. Please call on 01782 294800 to book an appointment with us at various locations.

 

New Legislation to outlaw employers misuse of non-disclosure agreements

Kelly Franklin (Student)

A Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) also known as a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) is a legal contract between at least two parties restricting the disclosure of certain confidential information to third parties. Many legitimate businesses including the government use NDA’s to protect confidential information.

Once a NDA has been signed it is a binding agreement (not to disclose information covered by the agreement) and a confidential relationship between the parties is created.

NDA’s are now referred to as ‘Gagging orders’ which were originally designed to stop employees sharing trade secrets when they moved to another company. They are regularly used by the rich and powerful alongside employee financial pay outs.  

This issue has been highlighted by the Sir Phillip Green case, owner of Arcadia Group-high street fashion brands such as ‘Topshop’ who is alleged to have used NDA’s to silence and pay off at least five members of his staff who have allegedly accused him of sexual harassment, racism and bullying.

Within Parliament Labour peer ‘Lord Hain’, under parliamentary privilege, named ‘Phillip Green’ as the individual in question as the media were subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of the story.

It has been suggested that NDA’s are being abused by some employers to intimidate whistle blowers and conceal harassment, discrimination, sexual assaults, physical threats and racism within the work environment.

As a result, the government are reviewing the law in this area and are considering new legislation making the misuse of NDA’s illegal in cases where victims have brought claims of sexual harassment. The intention behind this is to stop the silencing of victims to prevent them reporting serious crimes to the Police or other authorities.

To change the law around NDA’s and confidentiality clauses will bring fairness, safety, equality and a positive culture change within the workplace.

 

SULAC can provide free legal advice on all areas relating to employment law.

Please call 01782 94800 to make an appointment.

 

 

WH Smith Fined for Breach of Health and Safety

Hamza Ali (Student)

WHSmith have been issued a significant fine of £337,500 after a customer fell almost 3m through an open trapdoor on the shop floor. The incident left the victim with serious injuries. As a result of health and safety breaches, WHSmith pleaded guilty. WHSmith have a duty of care to their customers to ensure that they are safe pursuant to the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.

WHSmith have stated that they have made necessary changes to their policies since the incident in order to prevent any further incidents in the future. They have taken steps such as keeping the basement locked and have also completed a risk assessment to provide reassurance to the public.

Councillor Patrick Berry stated that “One of our top priorities is the wellbeing of people in our borough, so I hope the size of this fine serves as a warning to all businesses.”

The company was fined £168,750 for each of the two counts of breaching health and safety laws at a sentencing hearing at Taunton Crown Court. It was also ordered to pay £135,492.66 in costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

Here at SULAC we can provide you with any advice on injuries at work and how to bring a claim. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

Are Robot Wills The Future?

Larisa Astley (Student)

The Wills Act 1837 that governs wills in England and Wales is now more than 180 years old and has been branded “unclear and outdated”. Major improvements are being considered by The Law Commission consultation “to bring the law into the modern world”.

One of the controversial issues surrounding the debate is the need for a will to be in writing, with the emergence of and increasing reliance on digital technology this requirement signed into law almost two centuries ago may be the one of the first things to change.

A recent case caught worldwide attention in Australia, with the court allowing a will found in the unsent draft texts on the deceased’s mobile phone. Some jurisdictions give dispensing powers to courts, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and various states in the USA and Canada. There are positive signs that the laws around will-making will be modernised in some significant ways in UK too.

Another consideration is the need for a trusted advisor. In line with technological advances an increasing number of firms across the industry are taking advantage of sophisticated software to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. In fact figures show that around half of all UK law firms are already using artificial intelligence software in their businesses and another 40% of the legal service providers are planning to do the same, especially when generating and reviewing legal documents. Some firms are going a step further. With the latest technology it is now possible to make a will online without any human interaction whatsoever.

Looking more specifically, it could be argued that l so long as a will completes its four main functions (to name executors, trustees, guardians and beneficiaries) it is less important how it is generated. There has been some criticism signalling the public’s lack of trust in this new technology with clients anxious to ensure their documents are properly constructed and checked by suitable qualified humans.

Traditional will requirements would have made perfect sense in the Victorian era where the presence of a trusted adviser was important when it came to an individual’s legal affairs. However in a world where millions of people are already using virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, and where once highly skilled jobs are now being performed by robots, robot wills could well be the answer to reducing costs and increasing accessibility.

Whilst SULAC cannot assist with the drafting of wills we can help with contentious probate matters. Please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.