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Trials on TV, SRA practising fees, LPA delays, Percy Pig, and more.

A small Percy Pig, a sweet sold in the UK by Marks and Spencer.

Court on camera

This week, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has initiated a consultation process to decide whether to allow the kind of TV coverage of trials familiar from US TV. The MoJ launched its “call for evidence” as part of ministerial efforts to provide “open justice”, which the consultation document describes as “a fundamental principle at the very heart of our justice system and vital to the rule of law”.

At present, TV coverage of trials in the UK is restricted to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal (civil division) and the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Under the MoJ’s proposals, broadcasters would gain access to the country’s criminal courts in order to help dispel public myths and misconceptions about court proceedings and to allow justice to be seen to be done: “The broadcast media can play a part in opening up the courts to the public, demystifying the criminal justice process and increasing understanding of sentencing.”

The latter point in particular is an important one, especially in light of recent celebrity court cases such as the so-called Wagatha Christie trial or the Depp vs Heard libel trial, which drew a huge amount of media attention – making the outcomes of such cases more transparent to the public can only be a good thing.

However, the MoJ also acknowledges the potential drawbacks of bringing US-style court TV to the UK: “There are concerns that relaxation of the current broadcasting rules in the criminal courts could undermine the necessary privacy and protection required in many cases. Televising our courts may also open the judicial process to sensationalism and trivialise serious processes to a level of media entertainment.”

One is immediately reminded of the OJ Simpson trial and the seismic effect that the televised court proceedings had on US society at the time – a life-and-death murder trial as high-octane soap opera watched by seemingly everyone, with a final shock verdict that shone a spotlight on the tense race relations in mid-Nineties America.

Finer minds than mine have considered whether or not there’s any real danger that allowing TV cameras into British criminal courts will debase our legal system, as some fear. But instinctively, I am all for transparency, and can’t help but feel that US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was right when he said that sunlight is the best of disinfectants.

Legal execs can become Crown Court judges

As we all know, the criminal courts are currently mired in a huge backlog of cases – 62,000 of them, to be precise. In an effort to tackle the problem while also bringing greater diversity to the judiciary, ministers have announced plans to allow senior legal executives to become Crown Court judges.

The reform announced by Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC would mean that up to 45,000 lawyers from diverse backgrounds and working in a range of practice areas would be eligible to become judges in crown courts. This would spell a break in tradition, as it is usually barristers who sit on the Crown Court bench. In order to apply, all that members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives will need is seven years’ experience. They are not required to hold a university qualification.

The move is welcomed by Chris Bones, the chairman of the chartered institute: “Women and ethnic minorities are under-represented in our judicial system and we need a judiciary that is representative of the society we live in to promote confidence in the rule of law.”

This reform seems to be of a piece with the MoJ’s exploration of introducing court TV, broadening the inclusivity and diversity of the criminal courts. Once again, I feel that it’s a good move – although the eternal cynic in me can’t help wondering if it’s not also a reflection of just how bad the situation has become in our gummed-up, perennially underfunded criminal justice system.

Withers tells junior partners to cough up the cash

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that prominent City law firm Withers is forcing its junior partners to contribute up to £42,000 each in cash to the firm’s coffers. Senior managers have denied that the money is needed to help Withers weather the choppy economic climate, stating that the move is instead about ensuring junior partners “are more fully involved in the ownership of the business”.

Whatever the reason, news of such a cash grab – which will raise between £2.2 million and £4.6 million – is bound to have sent ripples through other City firms and put their lawyers on notice that they too might soon be required to get their chequebook out: where Withers leads, others not infrequently follow.

It’s the second time in a decade that Withers has made its partners cough up the cash: in 2012, the firm forced its senior equity partners to reach into their pockets and pay into the Withers war chest. There’s no hint that the 125-year-old legal practice is in any sort of trouble, but the news is nevertheless interesting and will make rivals wonder what might be afoot within the offices at 20 Old Bailey.

SRA asks solicitors to take a hike

Last week, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced that it will be asking solicitors to accept a 7% hike in practising fees in order to fund the £10m increase in the regulator’s annual budget, from £87.3m in the current year to an estimated £97.8m in 2023/24.

The SRA stated that the increase is partly due to inflation, following a 5.5% pay rise for its staff, but was also the result of its increased workload as the regulator takes on more employees to beef up its investigation and enforcement activities.

The coming 12 months will certainly be an interesting and challenging time for the SRA, as it moves towards enforcing its new rules on toxic workplace culture, takes on new responsibilities in the arena of money-laundering investigations, and oversees a solicitors’s indemnity fund to cover claims brought against firms closed more than six years ago.

Huge delays in LPAs

A freedom-of-information request from This is Money, the MailOnline’s money section, has revealed a jaw-dropping backlog in Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) applications, with some families waiting up to 3.5 years to receive their LPAs.

Thousands of families are caught up in the logjam of cases, with some applicants dying before their LPA has been issued by the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), the body responsible for processing and approving applications. The OPG apparently finds itself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of applications, which has risen steeply in the wake of the pandemic.

The Government is well aware of the situation and has submitted a bill to Parliament to urgently reform the LPA system. Yet despite being unopposed and indeed enjoying huge support, it could still take months for the bill to be passed, as time is running out for a second reading before Parliament’s summer recess.

Merch ado about nothing

recent study has shown that one in two students have at some point refused to accept free law-firm merch and actually find it off-putting when considering which firm to apply to after graduation.

The Sustainable Recruitment Alliance’s Impact Report 2022, published towards the end of April, is based on a survey of 2,390 students and graduates from 124 universities. Set up in 2020 by Laura Yeates, the former head of graduate talent at Clifford Chance and now the diversity and inclusion manager at Latham & Watkins, the Alliance aims to help firms make their early-talent recruitment activities more sustainable.

Included in the report are the written responses from some of the respondents when asked their opinion about free law-firm merch:

“Merchandise is irrelevant. I will apply to work with them if I have a good experience with their representatives, and if they have a post that I wish to pursue. Merchandise feels like bribery and I’m not a fan.”

“‘When deciding on an employer, I value factors critical to a suitable work environment. Merchandise and other external gifts do not determine my decision whatsoever. On the contrary, I consider the need for an employer to give such incentives as a lack of substance or quality of work.”

So there you have it. Recruiters, take note: a free branded cap and pen are in no way a substitute for high-quality conversations with potential recruits, who may in fact punish you for producing what they see as wasteful and superfluous incentives.

Joint LinkedIn post of the week – IP enforcement the Percy Pig way

In his recent post, public policy leader Royce Wee highlighted the lessons to be learned from the way that Marks & Spencer (M&S) handled a case of copyright infringement when the company became aware that a Hertfordshire-based ice cream parlour was selling its own version of Percy Pig gelato.

Rather than sending Fabio’s Gelato a threatening cease-and-desist letter, M&S instead chose to send a polite request – accompanied by some packs of Percy Pigs sweets – that the ice cream parlour change the name of the product. Fabio Vincenti, the proprietor, found the tone of the letter “polite and fair”, and has since complied with the request.

As Royce says, “the whole episode reflected very well on M&S and created goodwill for it as a feel-good social media story” – “Percy Pig would approve”. Quite right. And now I’m in the mood for an ice cream!

Joint LinkedIn post of the week #2

Eunika Kurek’s two posts about missing out on the annual global trade mark shindig called INTA are beyond brilliant.

Please read this one.

Then this one.

Top posting!

For everyone *actually* in Singapore this week for the conference, we hope you’ve had a brilliant time!

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