‘Trumpian’ court reforms, treason law, and Ambridge inspiration: your letters to the editor

‘Trumpian’ court reforms

Those of us who have witnessed the destruction of the county court system in Greater Manchester are feeling a certain fremdscham (the opposite of schadenfreude). The denial of access to justice for thousands of Her Majesty’s citizens, visited upon them by a brutal HMCTS regime, has a certain Trumpian quality. 

During the court closure consultation, my simple observation to HMCTS was that its plans would result in zero county court provision from West Yorkshire through to the centre of Manchester. With a disaggregated public transport network, poor road connections, and high train, tram and bus charges, closures would mean an outright denial of justice for the vulnerable, disabled and anyone on benefits. They would be expected to spend around 15% of their weekly benefit to attend any hearing held at the Manchester monolith known as the Civil Justice Centre. 

Oldham Council’s offer to host hearings at its civic centre was rebuffed and protestations to Michael Gove were ignored. 

The ramifications of Mr Gove’s inequitable decision-making will be keenly felt for many years to come, as the cases pile up and civil justice administration grinds to a halt. 

Warren Bradley
Solicitor, Oldham

When DIY wills need fixing

I read your article on DIY wills (lawgazette.co.uk, 14 May) with interest. They are indeed a fertile ground for will disputes and challenges. While the testator may think that they are saving themselves a few hundred pounds by doing their own will, this often ends up costing their estate (and possibly family members) many thousands in legal costs. 

Many homemade wills are immediately invalid as they have not been witnessed or signed properly by the testator, who did not appreciate the strict rules that apply when executing a will. Some do not appoint an executor, causing a headache for those who want to administer the estate. The will itself may be very badly worded, so that it is unclear what the deceased’s wishes were. Or the will may not deal with all their assets. 

And all of this before a disgruntled family member raises issues of lack of capacity or undue influence to try and challenge the validity of the will. If a solicitor or professional will-writer has not been involved in the preparation of the will, then there has been no ‘independent evidence’ that the will represents the deceased’s true wishes and that they had capacity to make it. This encourages costly and lengthy contentious probate litigation.

Debra Burton
Lime Solicitors, Leicester

Treason law must be proportionate

Sajid Javid’s proposals to update the law of treason in the UK have been broadly welcomed by the mainstream media, but one might question whether there is any need to revive a law that has not been used since 1945 (against William Joyce, better known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’). The Law Commission last considered looking at the law of treason in 2008 but declined to do so as the law had ‘ceased to be of contemporary relevance’. 

The home secretary points to the cases of British nationals supporting terror abroad, but Javid himself concedes that the UK’s counter-terrorism legislation is broad enough to deal with these cases. In the wake of the Salisbury poisonings and concerns over Huawei, Javid also sounded the alarm about ‘hostile state activity’ in the UK and announced that the government is considering a requirement for ‘foreign agents’ to be registered, citing the example of similar laws in the US. It is interesting to note that in the Russian context, a ‘foreign agent’ law there has led to dozens of NGOs closing their operations and an outcry from the international community. One hopes that our government would use such powers responsibly. 

Javid’s speech must of course be seen in the context of his ongoing campaign for the Tory leadership and might be considered to be a bid to demonstrate his credentials on national security. Whatever changes are eventually brought into law, it is important that they are proportionate to the threat faced by the UK. 

Thomas Garner
Solicitor, Gherson, London W1 

Ambridge inspiration

Obiter (13 May) referred to the ‘legal’ goings-on in Ambridge. It is, I believe, no secret that Ambridge is set in the Worcestershire village of Inkberrow and that Worcester is the inspiration for the fictional Borchester. I know of at least two retired judges who live in Inkberrow so it is more than possible that advice is being given at the gym, or down the pub. In the meantime, my fellow judges and I are holding ourselves ready to resolve any partnership/family disputes.

District Judge Martin Parry
Family and County Court sitting at Worcester 

Doing the right thing

Regarding the article by Greg Treverton-Jones QC on solicitors remedying mistakes (‘Penalised for getting things right’, 6 May)I fail to discern how a conflict of interest is perceived. The solicitor and the client have a common interest in remedying the mistake and putting things right, reinforced by the fact that this is not being done at the client’s expense. Do those who make these decisions have experience of solicitors’ practices?

Adrian Pellman
Pellmans, Eynsham, Witney, Oxfordshire