Developments you may have missed in our daily news update

Council ABSs approved

HB Public Law became the second local authority shared services venture to be granted an alternative business structure licence by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The business comprises the merged legal teams of Harrow and Barnet councils in London. The first local authority ABS licence was awarded to Buckinghamshire Law Plus Ltd, a collaboration between Buckinghamshire County Council and the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority.

New tax offence proposed

People who fail to declare offshore tax liabilities could face prosecution under proposed new laws published for consultation. HM Revenue & Customs has urged wealthy individuals to come forward and pay what they owe in advance of the new offence. The consultation seeks views on the design of the new offence and on appropriate safeguards. HMRC said most offshore cases will continue to be dealt with through a civil approach. However, a further consultation paper sets out the government’s plans to introduce tougher civil sanctions for offshore evaders, including those who move their taxable assets between offshore banks in different countries i n an attempt to hide their wealth and evade tax.

Warsi quits

The outgoing Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi (pictured right) claimed that the UK’s stance on the conflict in Gaza was not consistent with its commitment to the rule of law. Warsi, a former solicitor whose portfolio included responsibility for the International Criminal Court, resigned from the government citing the UK’s policy on the crisis in the Middle East. She studied law at the University of Leeds and went on to work as a solicitor for the Crown Prosecution Service before setting up her own legal practice.

Clyde ‘whistleblower’ case settled

Global firm Clyde & Co settled a long-running whistleblowing dispute with former partner Krista Bates van Winkelhof (pictured, top) weeks before an employment tribunal was set to hear her claims for alleged unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. The firm and Mishcon de Reya, which represented Bates van Winkelhof, confirmed an agreement had been reached but said ‘neither party will be making any further comment’.

NHS mediation

The NHS Litigation Authority announced a new mediation service to speed up the process of resolving claims. In partnership with the Centre for Dispute Resolution, the service will offer a face-to-face discussion between the healthcare provider and the patient, supported by an independent and accredited mediator. During the process, legal rights remain intact and either party can proceed to court if they are unhappy with the outcome. The litigation authority said the scheme will be an independent and voluntary process for resolving claims against health authorities.

Apprenticeships approved

A new apprenticeship route to legal careers was approved by the government, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education announced. The ‘trailblazers in law’ initiative allows apprentices to qualify as solicitors, chartered legal executives or paralegals through workplace-based training. The Solicitors Regulation Authority welcomed the announcement. The regulator, along with the Law Society and ILEX Professional Standards Limited (IPS), has worked over the past year with a committee of employers from across the profession to agree the new set of standards which meet the requirements specified by the SRA and IPS for qualification as a solicitor or legal executive.

Digital lasting powers of attorney

Proposals to create a fully online process for creating lasting powers of attorney (LPA) have been put on hold, the government admitted.

In a formal response to a consultation entitled Transforming the Services of the Office of the Public Guardian, the Ministry of Justice said it is ‘confident that a fully digital LPA will provide benefits’ but that ‘a number of points’ need to be resolved first.

A partially online service, which requires users to print out and physically sign forms, went live last year under the government’s programme to make public services ‘digital by default’. The justice ministry’s consultation had proposed putting the process entirely online, with electronic signatures.

The response concedes that the majority of respondents ‘did not agree’ with an all-digital system, saying it gave greater scope for fraud and financial abuse, and would not be suitable for elderly clients.

In its response to the consultation, the Law Society called for the retention of face-to-face contact and ‘wet signatures’. The MoJ said it would ‘build on the feedback received and work with key stakeholders to refine our proposal for a fully digital LPA and consult with the public when we have a fuller picture of how the digital tool will operate’.

Prisoner voting compensation and costs declined

The European Court of Human Rights again ruled that the UK has breached prisoners’ rights by not allowing them to vote, but declined to award compensation or legal costs. The seven-strong Chamber in Firth and Others v the United Kingdom held, by five votes to two, that there had been a violation of article 3 of protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to free elections).

Council chiefs’ ‘legal leeches’ allegation

Council leaders urged the government to clamp down on ‘opportunistic’ no win, no fee compensation claims which they allege are draining taxpayers’ money from local services. Lawyers are clogging up the system with spurious claims, they argue.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, warned that ‘claims for often trivial or minor incidents risk having a detrimental impact on road repairs and education budgets’. Many such claims ‘arise from lawyers talking people into making a claim with the offer of free legal fees’.

The cost of compensation claims related to the condition of roads last year amounted to £31.6m, according to the LGA, ‘equivalent to the cost of filling more than 600,000 potholes’. The association also cited figures showing that compensation claims related to incidents in schools amounted to £2.7m last year, with the total cost to councils reaching £6m once claimants’ ‘expensive’ legal fees were added.

Religion in workplace probe

The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched a call for evidence on religion or belief issues. The information will be used to assess how employers, businesses and others are taking religion or belief into account and the impact this has on individuals. Solicitors and others are being asked to respond as part of the commission’s three-year programme to determine the effectiveness of current equality and human rights legislation on people of all faiths and beliefs in England, Wales and Scotland.

Quindell ‘now the biggest’

Legal services provider Quindell is now the largest personal injury business in the UK, its chairman said. Rob Terry made his claim on the day the alternative investment market-listed company posted £153.6m in pre-tax profits for the first half of this year – up 193% from the £52.5m recorded for the same period last year. Terry said Quindell is also now the ‘largest public company law firm in the world’.

Hong Kong departure

The president of Hong Kong’s Law Society (pictured) announced his resignation in a row over moves by Beijing to tighten its grip on the region’s legal system. Ambrose Lam San-keung, managing partner at Hong Kong firm Lam, Lee & Lai, said he was tendering his resignation ‘in order to maintain the solidarity of the Hong Kong Law Society’. Lam had been the subject of criticism after voicing support for a white paper published by the Beijing government which is widely seen as an attack on the special status enjoyed by Hong Kong since the end of British rulein 1997.