2011 – Review Of The Year In Law

As we approach the end of the year, it’s worth taking a look at some of the issues that dominated legal news. Most of the issues that have been heavily debated will remain in the spot light in the coming months. Amongst some of the most contentious matters that have topped legal news is the idea that the Human Rights Act 1998 is a product of Europe and undermines the ability of the United Kingdom to be a sovereign state. Calls for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped have helped the present government gain popularity and will continue to be used as a political tool in pushing forward an agenda for a more isolated Britain.

The legal Aid bill proposed by the coalition government has come under fire from human rights groups and some sections of the legal profession who feel that the Bill, if passed into law, will make it more difficult for marginalised people to get legal redress. Access to justice has arguably topped the charts in legal news with serious concerns being been raised with regard to the reform of (CFAs) conditional fee arrangements.

Over the past few years, CFAs  have allowed individuals to take libel cases to court in situations where they would have had little or no redress to clear their name. A classic case is that of Christopher Jefferies who was depicted as a “Monster” by the press after he was arrested by the police and questioned for the murder of Joanne Yeates. The proposals being made by the government would put those who would like to clear their name at risk of losing their assets if they wanted to take legal action.  A potential sum of £100,000 would have to be paid before a lawyer can agree to take up a defamation case. The bottom line is, the rich will be able to fork out to clear their names while the “squeezed middle” as well as those at the bottom of the pile are less likely to put their assets at risk.

A clamp down on referal fees has been welcomed by consumer bodies that have canvassed long and hard to have them banned. The former Labour cabinet minister Jack Straw, condemned  “ambulance chasing practices”, when he  stated that ” high pressure sales techniques have lead to a phenomenal growth in the number of claims for personal injury”. Critics argue that the push to ban referal fees will not deter “ambulance chasers” from exploiting loophole in the law.

The Bribery Act which came into force this year raised some interesting issues with a significant number of companies raising concerns about how they would be able to distinguish genuine hospitality from bribery. There have been efforts by multinational corporations with offices abroad to sensitise their workers to the Act particularly in some countries where it is claimed business cannot be done without engaging in corrupt practices and bribery.

The introduction of alternative business structures through the enactment of the Legal services Act has been applauded as the way forward and will allow people more choice and better value in terms of legal service. Going forward more and more legal practitioners will be keen to see innovations in the legal sector and a shift from the traditional way of doing things.

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