How will the Courts recover from Covid 19?

Charmaine Watkins (Student)

As a result of Covid-19, courts were forced to change the way that they operate. Many hearings have had to move online but there are still major backlogs; the disruption caused by Covid-19 may have had a long term effect on the way that the courts work. 

HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have put forward a proposal to ensure that the backlog of cases is dealt with as quickly and as smoothly as possible. However, this has been criticised, with Lord Chief Justice urging HMCTS to be realistic about the funding.  

In October 2020, the number of hearings, judges sitting, and disposals were close to pre-Covid-19 levels, however the pandemic has created more cases, particularly relating to employment and housing repossession. In September 2020, there were over 45 000 outstanding cases in the employment tribunal alone, this was expected to increase when the  Furlough Scheme ends. HMCTS have warned that ‘there is already a significant volume of cases waiting to be listed, so our focus now is on ensuring we process the current caseload as quickly as possible so we can manage the anticipated increase in demand effectively’. To tackle the backlog, hundreds of new staff have been recruited, judicial sitting times have been maximised, courts that have closed due to the pandemic have reopened and an introduction of ‘Nightingale Courts’ has been planned. The cost of the recovery plan is problematic, with many professionals being left to ask, ‘Where is the money coming from?’. The Lord Chief Justice said, whilst giving evidence to the Commons Justice Committee last week, it is ‘absolutely vital’ that courts operate at full pelt [in 2021]. 

The new Nightingale Courts will be temporary courts created in large buildings to allow more cases to be heard by judges in a large safe space. The Government had been told that a minimum of 60 extra court rooms would be needed for Criminal hearings alone, however since this only 10 new court rooms, in 5 Nightingale Courts have been created. James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association has said ‘It needs to be repeated that buildings outside the court estate with large rooms must be found and opened,’ There has been no indication as of yet about how many Nightingale Courts will be created. 

David Greene, President of the Law Society has said that HMCTS needs to make maximum use of normal court hours and the existing estate before starting to introduce more drastic measures. Lord Barnett of Maldon said ‘My view for next year in all jurisdictions is that rather than the traditional approach to funding… there has to be a realistic assessment in every jurisdiction of the likely expectation of work coming into the system and in addition, there has to be a clear understanding of the additional backlogs we have to clear.’ 

HMCTS faces the undesirable task of clearing the backlog as effectively as possible, however, will nevertheless come under scrutiny about the courtrooms and other public buildings being unclean due to the large number of people visiting  during this time. The courts will be looking at ways to ensure that the backlog is dealt with, with the safety of all at the forefront of their minds.  

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on civil related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk   

 

England’s special housing reforms are welcome, but what about private renters?

Lucy Cooper (Student)

Many people are happy to see that the government intends to improve social housing, however many people are raising the question why private renters should not get the same measures. In a recent white paper, the government have announced that reforms will include checks of the quality of homes and repairs and how the landlord engages with tenants and their handling of complaints.

The current law that is in place is the decent homes standard 2006 (which is the law that will be reformed) currently some of the standards set out that all social homes should have: 

  • an indoor bathroom and toilet, which should be replaced every 30 years
  • Kitchens must have an appropriate amount of workspace 
  • Adequate insulation against external noise
  • Adequate size and layout of common areas in flats.

As stated, the above only applied to social home. The issue still remains that people who privately rent, fewer properties meet the existing standard. Housing benefit is assessed on what is a reasonable amount of rent to pay goes on not the size of the building but as long as the bedrooms are above the minimum habitable size then it doesn’t matter how big the overall size of the property is.  

Sadly, thousands of individuals are still living in poor conditions and don’t know their rights when it comes to the minimum requirements for their home. Many people don’t know that it is a landlord’s requirement to fix these hazards to make sure your home is safe including: 

  • damp and mould 
  • excess cold
  • blocked drains
  • water leaks and blocked toilets
  • roof leaks
  • electrical hazards

It is always good to first reach out to your landlord to see if they can help you with the repairs. However, if you have exhausted all options the final route is to take the landlord to court. The court can order your landlord to carry out repairs, pay compensation and make an unsafe property fit to live in. if you do take your issue to court it is important to be well prepared, ensure that you keep all letter and emails to your landlord, take photos of the disrepair, damage or bad conditions, keep receipts for any items you had to replace and obtain medical reports if your health has suffered.

If you have experienced any of these issues and require more advice at Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor, if you wish to book an appointment with us, then please either call us on 01782 294800 or email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk. 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Rights When Shopping Online

Priscilla De Paula (Student)

Every year on black Friday, shops are filled with people looking for good deals. This year however, COVID-19 changed this process, thousands of online shoppers were put on waiting lists as the websites could not deal with the number of people accessing online shops.

There are risks when purchasing online as consumers aren’t able to test the product or check if the picture of the product adequately describes what will be delivered. Furthermore, the delivery process can not only be delayed, but could also damage the products before arriving at the destination. What then are the consumer rights for online shoppers?

Online and distance selling companies are well instructed by the government on how to sell, what information to provide, how to tell the consumer their right to cancel and even how to register VAT. If these websites/companies do not follow government regulations, they will risk having to pay compensation or be given an unlimited fine. This does not apply to products worth less than £42. Although an online shopper is not able to see the product, and sometimes even can end up being misled by internet scams, there are certain steps they can take to be compensated for their loss.

Covid-19 has changed the way consumers shop and order services because now, 90% of what is bought is done online. Online shoppers are protected by the Consumer Rights Act and the Consumer Contracts Regulations. If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot agree with an online company about a faulty product or damaged goods, these are the steps to take:

  • Take photos and videos of the damaged or faulty product for evidence. If it is a service or if there is damage caused to your property due to what was bought, get an estimate of how much repairs will be
  • Call the seller and check if they have an official complaints procedure to make a formal complaint- if you are not happy with their response:
  • Ask your card provider or PayPal to help
  • Check if an Alternative Dispute Resolution is available to avoid going to court
  • Make a claim to the court if the problem is not yet resolved

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on consumer issues. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor.

A free appointment can help you find out your rights and legal position.

Call us on 01782294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk for an appointment

Child Arrangement Orders and the Pandemic

Leona Shala (Student)

This pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but it has been reported that some parents have even used it as a means to stop ex-partners from seeing their child or children. Those ignoring child court orders could end up facing legal action. 

The guidance concerning parents who are living apart is very clear in that children under the ages of 18, upon sensible assessment and only if the children are not being put under any risk, can move between parents ‘homes. However, for some parents trust and communication has broken down and agreements about child visits seems to have become impossible. 

Sir Andrew, who is in charge of family courts in England and Wales states that “If the parents are acting in a cynical and opportunistic manner, then that’s wrong, and the courts will regard it as wrong” .He makes it clear that anyone using the pandemic as an opportunity to stop their partner from seeing their child is wrong and could face court action. 

It is made clear that child safety during the pandemic is down to the parents and the courts will not interfere with that unless that parental power is being abused to change child arrangement orders and parents are using the pandemic as an opportunity to do this. 

In order to get a child arrangements order you would be expected by the courts to have tried mediation. This is where you and your partner and a mediator, who is there to help you and your partner come to an agreement and try and resolve the problem between you, get together to attempt to resolve the problem. If mediation does not work, then you would apply to the courts and complete a C100 form.  The welfare of the child is paramount. 

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on family-related matters. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you wish to book an appointment with us, then please either call us on 01782 294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk. 

 

 

Have You Made a Will?

Linda Wara (Student) 

Up to 60% of people do not have wills, by some estimates.

 To protect your assets, a will is needed as this safeguards your property, money, sentimental items, including jewellery and valuables.

This is a legal document that ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

You will require an executor who will be responsible for administering your affairs This could either be a close friend or your relative or could even be a firm of solicitors. Your executor will dispose of your assets and provide your beneficiaries with their share in accordance with the terms of your Will.

Your will should set out the following:

  • Your beneficiaries
  • Who will be your children’s legal guardian if they are under the age of 18
  • Your executor
  • What happens if your beneficiary dies before you

For a will to be legally valid, the following criteria needs to be met:

  • You must be over 18 years of age
  • You need to be aware of the extent of your assets
  • Your Will should be written
  • Should be signed by two witnesses, both of whom need to be over the age of 18 years (and not beneficiaries under the will)

Your will should be reviewed every 5 years or after any changes in your life, for example

  • Getting married
  • Separation or divorced
  • Having a child
  • Relocation
  • If the executor named in the Will dies

If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed amongst family members according to a predetermined formula which may be against what you would have wished for.

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on probate matters (although we do not draft wills). Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor.

A free appointment can help you find out your rights and legal position.

Call us on 01782294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Is this the future for family courts?

Charmaine Watkins (Student) 

Many parents are having to appear alone in family court proceedings due to the lack of legal aid. In addition to the stress this causes Covid-19 has caused further problems as many court hearings, including family hearings, are now remote. In the circumstances, many parents are appearing alone and often without the correct technology at these, often life changing hearings. 

Despite this in a survey carried out by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory out of 1300 people 86% of legal professionals believed that courts are now running more smoothly and being remote has many benefits. 78% of them agreed that fairness and justice was being achieved in many remote cases. This response was not shared by the litigants in person and 88% of parents reported that they were concerned about the way cases were being dealt with, with 66% feeling that the cases have not been dealt with well. 

Family law cases are often confusing and stressful for people who are representing themselves, but it appears that dealing with this from home has caused more issues with 40% of people saying that they did not understand what was happening in trials. Remote hearings involving issues such as domestic violence can cause trauma and stress and having to listen, talk to or see the alleged abuser when they are in their own home can cause further trauma. Another issue with remote hearings is that it can be difficult to create an empathetic and supportive environment for those that need it most. 

Another area which has caused distress is cases that involve interim care orders, particularly relating to babies from families shortly after birth. In many of these cases the mother is having to join the hearing by phone from the hospital which again causes further distress. 

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the Family Division has said in response to a report raising these issues that  many professionals have worked more effectively and there were some benefits for those working remotely however the issues raised need be addressed as it is clear to see that some cases need additional support when remote. 

The president of the Law Society, David Greene, has suggested that cases relating to care proceedings or domestic abuse should have face to face interaction with a professional who can give support and ensure that the people involved fully understand what is going on in the case. He did, however, agree that delays may have a damaging impact on a case, so some cases need to be dealt with quickly to avoid this. He also acknowledged that remote hearings are the only option during the pandemic. 

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on Family related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk  

 

Domestic violence During the COVID – 19 Lockdown

horizontal background woman in isolation at home for virus outbreak or hypochondria .

Reshahn Allen (Student)

New studies have revealed that during the Coronavirus lockdown, there has been a surge in domestic violence against women. Over two thirds of domestic violence survivors who responded to a Women’s Aid survey, reported that the violence had got worse during lockdown.   

Using statistics that have been obtained following a freedom of information request from the police, the BBC Panorama programme revealed that there was one domestic abuse call every thirty seconds within the first seven weeks of the first lockdown. The recorded calls had included reports of violent offences such as kidnapping, arson, revenge porn and poisoning.  

From the beginning of the lockdown, more than forty- thousand calls had been made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and those figures are rising according to the charity. The telephone helpline, which usually receives approximately two hundred and seventy calls from women, family and friends who need support had increased by seventy – seven per cent in June.  

During the first week of July, there was a fifty – four per cent increase in women who were in urgent need of accommodation in comparison to the final week in June, which was the highest number of women needing emergency accommodation during the lockdown.  

Domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs has now called for the government to help put a plan in place to tackle abuse at home. She had commented that there would be a surge during the autumnal months and labelled the seventy – seven per cent rise during June as “stark”.  

On an interview with BBC radio 4’s Today programme, Nicole Jacobs had stated that “there has been some government funding, but just to point out that the funding is in place and has been given charities and services until the end of October. Of course, this surge is going to go well beyond that so one thing the government need to put in place is a plan post – October and that is quite urgent to do now because we can see the evidence is right in front of us.”  

Nineteen days after lockdown had started, the government had proclaimed it would give an extra £2 million to domestic abuse helplines, and they had launched a social media campaign to encourage people to report domestic abuse. The CEO of the women’s aid charity, Solace, Fiona Dwyer, had told Panorama that the timing of the government was ‘dreadful’ and that it should not have taken them nineteen days to muster any action. Dwyer said that domestic violence and abuse was not a priority for the government and the £2 million was a ‘poor effort’.  

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice for matters regarding domestic abuse and family issues, in conjunction with Lewis Rodgers Solicitors. SULAC is offering appointments online, through Microsoft Teams due to COVID – 19. For additional information, or to book an appointment please call on 01782 294800 or email at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Furloughed ethnic minorities and young hit hardest by job losses

Lucy Cooper (Student)

Since the Corona Virus pandemic hit the UK significant changes have had to take place in the working environment. Many people have had to work from home or have had to stop working and be paid through the Furlough scheme. The Resolution Foundation said that recently there has been a large number of job losses with black and Asian and minority workers being significantly affected with one in five ethnic minority workers losing their jobs. 

It has been acknowledged in a recent YouGov survey that unemployment has been most common among workers in the black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, 22% of BAME workers and 19% of young workers have become unemployed. These numbers are significantly higher than the average 9% of furloughed adults who are now no longer working. 

The furlough scheme has since been extended by the Government until the end of March and provides employees with 80% of their current salary, for hours which they have not worked up to a maximum of £2,500. Under the new scheme the cost to employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the scheme which was in place which caused thousands of ethnic minorities and young people to lose their jobs. 

In addition to this businesses which have been forced to close will receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month under the Local Restriction Support Grant, this should help businesses to keep hundreds of people in jobs so that they can keep the business afloat and, hopefully, keep people in employment. 

The Job Retention Scheme has been extended for a further month which means any employers small or large are eligible for the extended Job Retention Scheme, this means that business will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full time, and they will only be asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions, which accounts for just 5% of total employment costs.  

To be eligible employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30th October 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 30th October 2020. 

These new measures should help to keep people in employment however for those who have already lost their jobs and are struggling to find a new one the Government has suggested getting financial support through the New Style Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit and Pension Credit. 

If you need any advice on the issues which have been discussed above Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on employment related matters, if you wish to book an appointment with us please call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email on SULAC@staffs.ac.uk 

 

 

 

The pandemic and Evictions.

Leona Shala (Student)

During this pandemic, a lot of people have been struggling financially due to being made redundant or there being less work available. This has had an impact on an individual’s ability to pay their rent or mortgages. Tenants have had threats of eviction from landlords due to not being able to pay their rent and have been faced with the worry of potentially being evicted.

Eviction is the legal process used by a landlord who wants his or her tenants to leave their property for any specific reason. If the tenancy has come to an end, then the landlord will have to issue a Section 21 notice; this is called a “no-fault eviction” as the landlord does not have to give a reason for their decision.

The Government announced, at the beginning of March lockdown, that there was to be a ‘complete ban on evictions’. This was a relief to many tenants struggling to pay their rent. The Government has also increased the minimum notice period from two to six months which will continue to at least March 2021. Clearly there is a balancing act to ensure that Landlords are not prejudiced by this as they may also be suffering with financial difficulties but the Government is clearly trying to ensure that fewer people are made homeless during the pandemic.

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on property related matters. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you wish to book an appointment with us then please either call us on 01782294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk .

 

 

When Should a Parent Stop Providing Their Child with Financial Assistance

Millie Parkes (Student)

In a recent case a 41-year-old qualified solicitor, was denied continued access to his parents’ funding due to their relationship deteriorating.

Although judges have powers to order parents to provide financial support based on laws regarding marriage and children, in this case, the judge found there was no case in this instance. Sir James Munby, the Judge on this case described the case as ‘most unusual’ and ‘unprecedented’ to his knowledge.

The Claimant is said to have a degree in modern history, a master’s degree in taxation and is a qualified solicitor. This evidently intelligent man has however been unemployed since 2011 due to ‘various difficulties and mental health disabilities.’ In light of this, his parents, who were very wealthy, provided him with financial assistance allowing him to reside in a Central London flat that they own, and paid for some of his bills The man claimed that his parents had “nurtured his dependency”.

The man’s appeal was rejected by the courts on the basis that an adult child ‘should not be able to take his parents to court to obtain finance.’ It was argued that provisions in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Children Act 1989 and under human rights law allowed payments to support young children and sometimes adults if they are still in education or if they had special circumstances including a disability. The court said this did not apply in this case.

This court found that these provisions could only be applied when a court order for financial support had already been made when the child was young, and when the parents are not living with each other – which was not the case for the man.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on all financial matters relating to children and divorce SULAC is currently offering appointments online via Microsoft Teams due to the global pandemic. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call on 01782 294800.