Do You Need a Will?

Glenn Tortal (Student)

Often people fail to make a Will to ensure that their family, spouse or civil partner are protected when they die. Some think that it is not necessary, but it is essential, especially if you are not married to your partner.

Why does a person have to make a Will?

  • Death is uncertain – unless you are prepared and the Will is in place and validly created, your loved ones may have difficulties accessing your estate.
  • Faster claims process – If you have a will the administration of the estate can often be quicker.
  • Avoid intestacy rules – English law provides stringent rules of who can inherit an estate when there is no Will. In most cases where someone is in a relationship (not married/civil partners), the significant other will not be entitled to an estate of a person who died automatically. In contrast, even if you are married, your spouse or civil partner will only receive your entire estate if there are no children in the family. If there are children, then they may be entitled to a share of the estate- this depends on the value of any assets. With a Will in place, it ensures that your wishes regarding your estate can be carried out.
  • Inheritance Tax – A will may be able to help you reduce any inheritance tax liability. At the very least a legal advisor will be able to help you deal with your assets in your lifetime to reduce or negate inheritance tax.
  • Gift or donation of an estate to charity – In some circumstances, you may have a charity or church close to your heart that you wish to donate to. To make sure this happens, you must have a valid Will.
  • Protect your partner if not married – As mentioned above, an unmarried couple will not be entitled to your estate under the intestacy rules but a valid Will can allow you to provide them with total protection in the event of your death.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) provides free legal advice on probate  matters. For enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact:

Email: Sulac@staffs.ac.uk

Telephone: 01782 294800


 

No Fault Divorce

Kerry Moynihan (Student)

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (“The Act”) came into force on 6th of April 2022. The Act is a substantial change to divorce law within England and Wales and is the biggest change to divorce law in 50 years. The Act establishes that divorce applications can be made through a ‘no fault divorce procedure’, instead of the previous need to rely on facts to prove the breakdown of the marriage.

Prior to the Act, you had to prove that the marriage had broken down by relying upon one of five facts: behaviour, adultery, separation for 2 years with consent, desertion or separation for 5 years without the need for consent. This meant that if couples seeking a divorce could not prove one of these facts, they risked having to stay married for a minimum of 2 years even whilst separated. Unreasonable behaviour was most commonly used as it covered many types of behaviour, however, as spouses would need to provide information on the circumstances of the behaviour of their spouse, it was seen to be a ‘blame game’. The former Justice Secretary Rt Hon Robert Buckland stated: “By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

The only two criteria that need to be satisfied under the new act is: the marriage needs to have been for a minimum of one year and that it has irretrievably broken down. If both of the criteria are met the parties would be able to obtain   a no-fault divorce. There is now no need to explain why the marriage has broken down irretrievably, eliminating the need for extra stress in the situation by blaming the other person. The new rules will also allow for divorce proceedings to be made as a joint claim. Under the previous act only one person could make an application, however, the new joint applications will help to allow for amicable divorces. This may benefit many people who agree on the relationship breakdown and want to avoid costly legal fees. Data provided by HM Courts & Tribunal Services suggested that there has been an increase as much as 50% in divorce applications since the no-fault divorce procedure was introduced.

Under the old act there would only be a wait of around 6 weeks between the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. Under the new law there will be a minimum 20 week wait between the application being submitted and finalised, this is to give both parties the chance to reflect on whether they want to continue with the divorce or if they would like to cease their application. Moreover, a no-fault divorce cannot be contested, this will help ensure those who are in a toxic relationship are not forced to stay in the marriage. There are only specific circumstances in which a divorce can be contested such as if the courts do not have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce.

Outdated language has also been removed from the divorce procedure, terms such as: ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional order’, ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final order’ and ‘The Petitioner’ will become ‘The Applicant’. This is to help ensure that the language used is easier for litigants in person to understand.

Here at SULAC we offer free legal advice on all family matters including divorce and financial affairs. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Unfair Dismissal

Joanne Bennett (Student)

In March this year, P&O Ferries sacked more than 800 workers without notice. By making staff ‘redundant’ without notice or consultation, P&O Ferries broke British employment laws. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 states that employers making 100 or more staff redundant must give the Redundancy Payments Service 45 days notice.

After this widely reported event that caused public outcry, P&O Ferries offered all dismissed staff a redundancy settlement. However, one employee, Mr Lansdown, declined their offer and decided to pursue legal action and bring a claim for unfair dismissal.

In September, the dispute was finally brought to an end, and Mr Lansdown won his case. In an out-of-court settlement, P&O ferries admitted that no consultation took place and accepted that they had dismissed him unfairly.

What is unfair dismissal?

Dismissals can be unfair when the employer does not have a fair reason for dismissing the employee or when the employer does not follow the correct process when dismissing the employee. It is governed by the Employment Rights Act 1996. Unfair dismissal claims must be brought within 3 months from the employee’s dismissal date.

To bring an unfair dismissal claim:

  • They must have been an employee
  • They must have been in continuous employment with the employer for at least 2 years
  • They must have been dismissed

Things to consider when deciding whether a dismissal was unfair:

  • Was the dismissal for a potentially fair reason?
  • Was the dismissal fair in all the circumstances?
  • Was the procedure by which they were dismissed fair?

When you begin the process, you will need to inform ACAS (a government-funded body that helps with workplace disputes) that you want to make a tribunal claim. This will begin a conciliation process where you and the employer will be encouraged to come to a settlement agreement. You must undergo this process before you can apply to the employment tribunal.

If you do go to an employment tribunal, remedies for unfair dismissal include:

  • Re-instatement (You get your job back under all the same terms)
  • Re-engagement (you can go back to work but under new terms)
  • Compensation (a monetary award to compensate for financial losses – this is the most common remedy)

Here at SULAC, we offer free legal advice on all employment matters, including unfair and constructive dismissal. If you would like an appointment, please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

Legal Aid for Housing

Hannah Batho (Student)

On the 17th October 2022, the government announced some planned changes to the eligibility for legal aid. These changes would not be activated immediately but would provide support in the future for ‘at risk’ people facing domestic abuse or eviction from their home.

Firstly, the government plan to put aside an extra £10m towards legal aid relating to housing issues. This would enable struggling tenants to receive free legal advice before they made an appearance in court. Additionally, it would allow tenants who are facing repossession notices to also receive advice on welfare benefits and debt. This adaption to the current eligibility is predicted to come into play in August 2023.

The Ministry of Justice has stated that, under new protection orders and notices, domestic abuse victims will be able to access provisions from a number of different professionals to help with their situation. The police will be given the power to issue notices which require the abuser to leave the victim’s home. In addition to this, the courts will be able to issue orders which offer more long term protections to the victims. Finally, doctors will have the ability to submit letters of evidence which will assist in victims’ applications for legal aid. Before this can be implemented, the Ministry of Justice wish to carry out a ‘future pilot’ of the protection notices and orders, therefore there is no set date for the reforms to take place.

Additionally, the Ministry also announced that legal aid would be offered to domestic abuse victims who were applying for indefinite leave to remain, as well as to special guardians when pursuing court proceedings regarding parental control.

Currently, some practitioners are concerned with the rapid decline in civil legal aid providers. The Legal Aid Agency disclosed that they would be carrying out a ‘major review’ of the current situation surrounding civil legal aid, however the Legal Aid Practitioners Group stated their concerns that it was already too late to prevent the legal aid sector from declining further. Whilst there may be the possibility of more people getting legal aid if there are less solicitors undertaking this kind of work, then the problem will not be solved.

Here at SULAC we can offer assistance with housing issues and help clients who are experiencing domestic abuse. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk.

Section 21 Eviction notice: Is it staying or is it going?

Izaz Riaz (Student)

In the 2019 general election, part of the conservative party’s manifesto was to abolish Section 21 Eviction notices.

A section 21 eviction notice (or sometimes called notice of possession) is a notice given by a landlord to tenant(s) to leave the property without giving a reason. Section 21 notices are used by landlords as it is a much faster and cheaper process to vacate their properties rather than having to wait until the tenancy ends.If Section 21 notices were to be abolished, landlords would have to use a section 8 notice to evict their tenants and give reasons as to why they are evicting their tenants. This will give greater security to tenants but may make it difficult for landlords to evict problem tenants.

According to the Ministry of Justice, on average it takes around 44 weeks between the initial eviction claim and repossession of the property without a section 21 notice.

There have been 19,790 Section 21 notices given to households in the year 2021/2022 which is a 121% increase from the previous year. There has also been a 53% increase in private renters seeking help with homelessness.

The number of rental properties available have fallen dramatically [HT1] The lack of rental properties available has caused rent prices to increase 12.3% year-on-year, fuelling homelessness.

The Government’s plan back in 2019 to abolish the Section 21 Notice was to “provide greater certainty for tenants,” however, with the current situation of the lack of housing and landlords arguing that keeping Section 21 notices will help promote buy-to-let properties increasing supply, the plans to scrap Section 21 notices have gone into turmoil and it is uncertain if the Government will stick to their promise, particularly in light of recent events.

Matt Downie, Chief Executive of housing charity Crisis, commented abandoning the plan would be “shameful” and that cutting off help in the middle of a cost of living crisis would result in a great number of families into homelessness.

Here at SULAC we can help if you have a housing issue. If you would like an appointment please call 01782 294800 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.u

SULAC Annual Report 2021/22

Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic has helped over 200 people with legal issues this academic year.

Staffordshire University’s Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is run as a 40-credit module in the final year of the LLB; it also forms the main component for our Professional pathway route on the LLB. SULAC provides free legal advice to the general public and certain sectors of the community across Staffordshire. SULAC students are thoroughly trained and supervised in everything that they do.

The clinic is managed by Tracey Horton, a qualified solicitor who was in private practice for over 25 years. No client is seen without a supervisor and no letter of advice is sent out unless it has been approved by a supervisor. Clients are interviewed by two students and their supervisor. The students will then research the area of law and a letter of advice will be sent to the client within 14 days. No advice is given at the first interview.

SULAC offers advice on most areas of law including family, consumer, personal injury, and housing. SULAC does not offer debt counselling and cannot advise on criminal or immigration issues. Where SULAC cannot assist the students will signpost or refer to another organisation, where possible. The service is currently limited to one letter of advice, but it is possible that the service will be extended to cover case work in the future.

Tracey Horton, SULAC Manager, has said that “SULAC continues to serve our local community. Last academic year we helped over 200 people with legal issues. The vast majority related to family law enquiries, either child arrangement orders or domestic violence issues. We also saw a rise in wills and probate enquiries and contentious property issues. Please see the link for our latest annual report. SULAC continues to operate over the summer for clients experiencing domestic violence and will resume fully in October.”

You can read the full report here.

Law Lecturer Invited to speak at Expert Consultation Organised by the United Nations Human Rights Office

Dr Samantha Spence, Senior Lecturer in Law at Staffordshire University, has been invited to participate, as speaker, in an expert consultation organized by the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The expert consultation takes place in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 47/8, on human rights violations and abuses rooted in harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. The expert consultation will take place from 18-19 July 2022 at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva. Switzerland, with the participation of various experts and stakeholders.  

The objective of the expert consultation is to analyse the human rights and gender impact of harmful practices arising from witchcraft accusations and ritual attacks on groups at risk, and to identify measures to prevent them, protect those vulnerable to them, and implement accountability measures for such violations. The outcome of the meeting will inform the preparation of a study to present at the Human Rights Council at its fifty-second session.  

“I am thrilled and honoured to be invited to participate in the OHCHR expert consultation, continuing the important work done so far, and raising awareness of harmful practices related to accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks.” 

Law students join in welcome for newly enrolled students at APIIT Sri Lanka

On Friday the 8th of April, some first year LLB (Hons) Law students joined Aidan Flynn, Academic Link Tutor (Law), to participate online in giving a warm welcome to students embarking on the university’s LLB course at APIIT Sri Lanka.  For over twenty years, APIIT Sri Lanka and Staffordshire University have each been enriched by their positive partnership relationship.

Aidan Flynn (far left) with current Law students at Staffordshire University

Losalini Boteanakadava, a first-year student at Staffordshire, said “It was a privilege to participate in the welcome given to new LLB students during their induction at APIIT Sri Lanka.  We enjoyed this interaction with our peers in Colombo and Kandy.”

Students Invited to Lincoln’s Inn Event for Aspiring Barristers

On 23rd February, a few of our Law students were invited to Lincoln’s Inn, London. Mary Carstairs, a current Law student, has written about the experience.

On February 23rd I had the opportunity to attend the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn in London, at an event for students of law who are interested in becoming barristers.

The event began with a tea and coffee reception followed by a most informative presentation by members of Lincoln’s Inn covering history, ethics, practice points, etiquette, and job opportunities. There was a wine reception with the opportunity to engage with other students and members of the Inn, judges and barristers. We were then invited to enter the Great Dining Hall where we enjoyed a very formal and elegant dinner. The seating arrangement ensured that there was a barrister or judge near enough to engage in conversations during the meal.

Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London, and its founding is thought to be in 1310. The library of the Inn holds the black books, as they are known, which document minutes of the governing council dating back to the 1400s. A notable installation in the Dining Hall, is a tapestry which dates to the 1600s and looks more like a painting than a tapestry. One of the women I was seated near during the meal is an employee of the Inn and she explained that while some repairs and restoration was being done, the tapestry was torn; of course, it was repaired in short order.

As a mature international student from a country with relatively new legal traditions (dating back only 250 years, not 600 years like Lincoln’s Inn), I was in awe of the grandeur and the history of Lincoln’s Inn. It was an opportunity and an honour to have been able to experience some of the aged traditions of Lincoln’s Inn; as well as having the opportunity to engage with many esteemed practitioners.

I would like to give thanks to the faculty for allowing me this amazing opportunity. I am sure I speak for all of us who attended from Staffordshire University when I say, ‘Proud to be Staffs’.

Historical Bore or Prison Lesson?

On Tuesday 15th March, our first year Law students went on an educational trip to Shrewsbury Prison. Duncan Carson, a Law student, has written about the experience

Prisons. We’ve all seen them on the telly. From Ronnie Barker’s prisoners’ view in “Porridge,” (incidentally, the only ever sit-com with no opening music) to C4’s more recent officers’ view in “Screw.” Well now you can go and walk on the wing without committing a crime. HMP Shrewsbury has been transformed and is open to the public for visitors. It’s cold, forbidding, authentic, cold, grim, unpleasant and cold. Yes, it really is that cold, on a chilly March morning, it was a relief to step outside into the wind for some warmth. It has cells made-up to show how they have changed since the 50’s – one which represents riot conditions – and they will lock you in one until you answer some riddles to “escape.” You can even visit the long disused execution room.

A cell set up to represent riot confiditions

It’s all very real and if you visit and walk around yourself, it can be very dull.

But…

Take the tour with real ex-prison officers Graham and Mick and it all comes to life. Not in a television melodrama way, but through the eyes of those who have lived it. Graham is a natural performer who will describe what happens upon arrival, where “normal” inmates and “protected” prisoners (sex offenders, convicted policemen and the odd lawyer etc) are segregated. He’ll tell you about the swift and violent retribution for not repaying a prison debt, and he’ll tell you about his  regret of watching inmates kick their drug addiction only to see them return three months after release, because they have nowhere to go expect back to the same bad crowds and same bad habits that got them banged up in the first place. Mick loves to tell a “war story.” Some are amusingly disgusting involving slop out buckets and some make you despair as inmates come to harm because of managerial penny-pinching and corner-cutting in the name of efficiency.

Throughout the tour, these guys, with decades of experience, will tell you how it really was in HMP Shrewsbury; and you can feel their pride in what they felt was a good prison, where officers could build relationships with the men and they felt they could do something to help make sure that, at least some of them, never returned. The feeling that they disapprove of newer, bigger, “more efficient” prisons is palpable and you can tell they believe a 5% budget saving today means a 10% increase in returning customers.

These are not bleeding heart liberals, but professionals who have figured out that dehumanising treatment and a “lock ‘em up and forget ‘em” attitude does not magically transform criminals into well rounded, law-abiding members of society. They talk with excitement about “listeners;” prisoner volunteers who sit and talk with suicide risk inmates and then advise the officers how often they need to be checked on. They proudly mention that many prisoners said HMP Shrewsbury had the best food in the country. They state that tobacco never drove anyone to violence (except as prison currency), but the ban on smoking created a gap which hard drugs filled as inmates look for something to de-stress. This led to an escalation of danger on the wings. They appreciate prison is a punishment, but without rehabilitation there is little point in release dates.

So please, go to Shrewsbury Prison. Take the tour and see if you can honestly say you came away without having at least a more nuanced approach to crime and punishment.

Oh, and wrap up warm. It’s really cold