Foreign qualified lawyers seeking to practise in England and Wales may have to pass an English language test under proposals to be considered by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority board this week. The SRA’s education and training committee has put forward the recommendation as an amendment to its original consultation paper published in September 2008. If the amendment is accepted, all international applicants will be required to pass an English language test before being eligible to undertake the new Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme assessments. The committee said the test would be a cost-effective filter for those whose English is not up to the required standard, and enable the examiners to concentrate on technical aspects of the assessment. The committee has also proposed that professional values, attitudes and ethics should be tested through practical assessment rather than through interviews.
The public wants direct access to barristers in crime, family and immigration work and is ‘dissatisfied with paying two lawyers for one job’, a panel of leading barristers claimed this week. Kevin Leigh, barrister at No5 Chambers in London, said: ‘It’s about giving proper choice to the market and increasing access to justice at a reasonable cost. ‘The public want value for money and lawyers who can give them a service. The bar can provide that. ‘Trying to justify two fees is becoming harder in many cases… The public are dissatisfied with paying two lawyers to do one job.’ Mark Ellison QC, of London’s Hollis Whiteman Chambers, said public access was an opportunity for barristers to take control of their fees and stop ‘being the trolley dollies of solicitors’. He said: ‘The essence is getting the public to come to us. At the moment they have to go to a solicitor first, and they often prevent clients getting to the bar.’ Since 2004 the public has been able to bypass solicitors and instruct barristers directly in most areas of civil work, but not in most criminal and family work and all immigration work. Following a consultation last year, the Bar Standards Board approved the extension of the scheme to these areas. The change awaits sign off from the Legal Services Board.
The master of the rolls has recommended that a single body should be responsible for hearing appeals brought by lawyers or legal businesses found to have breached licensing and ownership rules. Lord Neuberger said it is essential that common standards are applicable across the profession. Lord Neuberger was responding to the Legal Services Board’s consultation on approaches to licensing alternative business structures. He stressed the need for a ‘coherent and consistent’ approach to regulatory and disciplinary matters, given the likelihood of substantial changes to the nature of legal practice. ‘It would seem to be contrary to the public interest for professionals from different branches of the profession, and for professionals and ABSs, to be subject to different appeal structures and procedures and differing jurisprudence,’ he said. He added that the potential for different decisions arising from the same facts should be avoided – for instance where a solicitor is found guilty on a disciplinary matter, but the ABS as an entity is not found to have committed any breach. The Tribunals Service has agreed in principle it could undertake the role of final appellate tribunal for the legal profession. Lord Neuberger suggested this would merit a separate consultation.
I read with some interest about the various proposals for solicitors to undergo ‘real time’ peer review to assist in measuring their competence (see  Gazette, 1 April, 1). While the proposals strike me as overly burdensome, the issue of competence is certainly a relevant inquiry. Here in the US, some state bars, including my home state of Florida, have developed a programme of certification so that lawyers may be designated as ‘specialists’ in certain areas of the law. For example, I am a certified Health Lawyer as I practise in the area of ‘Health Law’. To become certified, a lawyer must: have practised over 70% of the time in a particular area of the law for a minimum of five years; pass an examination; be recommended by peers practising in the same area of law; maintain certain hours of continuing education in the relevant area of law. The certification is good for five years, at which time the process, minus the examination, begins again. Many solicitors in the US already undergo a rigorous ‘peer review’ programme as practising attorneys. Perhaps this system is something the Solicitors Regulation Authority would consider as a means of assuring the public of a solicitor’s competence. Robert A Zack, Certified health lawyer, solicitor of England and Wales, Sarasota, Florida
There is nothing the papers love more than an eccentric judge, so there was plenty of coverage of Beatrice Bolton’s outburst when she was found guilty of breaching the Dangerous Dogs Act at Carlisle Crown Court last month. London newspaper Metro reported that the 57-year-old judge (pictured), who was told off by an usher for chewing gum during the hearing, was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £275 compensation to her neighbour’s son after he was bitten by her alsatian dog. Bolton, who normally hears cases at Newcastle Crown Court, apparently branded the decision ‘a fucking travesty’. The Daily Mail reported that, after the court adjourned, Bolton emerged from a court side room to say: ‘Do you want a statement? I’ll give you a statement. I have no faith in the justice system whatsoever.’ Fine words for a member of the judiciary, you might think. She also said that she would ‘never set foot in a court again’, although confusingly she also vowed to appeal.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoI) applies to information which is held by a public authority at the time it receives an access request. The First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) recently examined the sometimes difficult question of when information is ‘held’ in British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) v Information Commissioner and Newcastle University (EA/2010/0064). BUAV submitted a request to Newcastle University for the information set out in project licences, granted by the Home Office under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA), which governed some published animal research at the university. Among other things, the university argued that it did not hold the licences. It said that they were held by the named veterinary surgeon (NVS) pursuant to his statutory role under ASPA. At the preliminary hearing the tribunal had to decide whether the information was held by the university at the time it was requested. The tribunal stated that ‘hold’ is an ordinary English word; it is not used in some technical sense in FoI. Sophisticated legal analysis of its meaning is not required or appropriate. However, it is necessary to observe that ‘holding’ is not a purely physical concept, and it has to be understood with the purpose of FoI in mind. The university submitted that the ASPA regime, which placed personal responsibility upon project licence holders, had the consequence that the requested information was held solely by those individuals and not by the governing body of the university. The information commissioner supported this submission on the basis not of the ASPA regime alone, but having regard to the evidence, which he submitted showed that the information was in fact ringfenced so that only individuals with the relevant statutory roles could access it. The tribunal ruled that, while the ASPA regime was undoubtedly a material consideration, it did not have the consequences contended by the university. The personal responsibilities placed on individuals by the ASPA regime were an important feature of the system of control on animal research, since they avoid the danger of dilution that would result if the responsibilities were assigned merely to an institution. But this striking feature of the regulatory structure should not be allowed to crowd out the larger picture. The tribunal noted that animal research was a very substantial part of the university’s activities, carried out for university purposes on university premises. The grants that were made to fund it were grants made to the university. The confidential information involved was generated within the university. The licences were physically held by a professor Flecknell as the NVS for the university’s animal research, by arrangement with a Dr Hogan, to whom professor Flecknell was responsible. Dr Hogan was the ASPA certificate holder not in his personal capacity but precisely because, as registrar, he represented the governing body of the university. The tribunal therefore concluded that the governing body held the requested information through him and so it was subject to the FoI regime. Cost of complianceSection 12 of the FoI and the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2004 (SI 2004 No 3244) mean that when a public authority wishes to refuse a request on grounds that the cost of complying with it would be over the appropriate limit (£450 or £600), it can only take account of the cost in doing four things calculated at a rate of £25 per hour: Section 16(1) imposes a duty on the public authority to offer advice and assistance to the requestor, so far as it would be reasonable to do so. Ibrahim Hasan is a director of Act Now Training Ltd determining whether it holds the information in question; locating the information, or a document which may contain the information; retrieving the information, or a document which may contain the information; and extracting the information from a document containing it. The list will be updated quarterly and published on the commissioner’s monitoring compliance webpage. been the subject of six or more complaints of delay in the last six months; exceeded the time limit by a significant margin on at least one occasion; or appear to respond in time to fewer than 85% of requests. Section 16(2) provides that a public authority will be taken to have complied with its duty in this regard if it has complied with the Code of Practice, issued under section 45. The code states that, when the cost of compliance would be over the appropriate limit, a public authority should consider providing an indication of what, if any, information could be provided within the limit, and should also consider advising the applicant that by reforming or refocusing their request the information could be supplied at a lower fee or at no fee. Without doing this, the tribunal could rule that the public authority’s cost estimate has not been made on a reasonable basis (see Robert Brown v ICO and The National Archives (EA/2006/0088)). In Dorothy Cooksey v Information Commissioner and Greater Manchester Police (EA/2010/0113), the information requests concerned documents relating to a murder investigation. Greater Manchester Police refused to provide the information on the basis that, after aggregating the requests, the costs of doing so would exceed the appropriate limit (£450). It said that retrieving the information would involve searching through many boxes of documents which were not in any particular order. The tribunal upheld the information commissioner’s decision and dismissed the appeal. However, it did criticise the police for their poor records management. It also made some important points about application of the fees provisions and the duty to advise and assist in section 16. The tribunal was satisfied that the police had properly considered whether there were alternative methods of complying with the information requests. However, it agreed with the police’s view that ‘it is only if an alternative exists that is so obvious that disregarding it renders the estimate unreasonable’. The appellant had suggested some alternative sources, but there was no evidence to support these suggestions, and the tribunal concluded that, as they were speculative, it could not accept that they were sufficiently ‘obvious’ to render the estimate (based on the understanding that all the boxes had to be searched) unreasonable. With regard to the duty to advise and assist, the tribunal accepted the argument that this was not a case in which the requestor could reasonably have been advised to reframe her request, to limit its scope or to make it in a way that would allow de-aggregation as per section 16. The tribunal was satisfied on the basis of the evidence presented to it that the information was in so disorganised a state as to make it necessary for someone to search through all the boxes in order to find any one part of it. The requestor also argued that there could reasonably have been a search up to the appropriate limit and that any information found in relation to her original request, even if only partial, would be useful. The tribunal sympathised with this sentiment but ruled that it is not a correct approach to section 12. If the appropriate limit is engaged, the effect of section 12 is to disapply the duty to comply with the information request. There is no duty to supply information up to the appropriate limit. The tribunal did not consider that the margin of difference between the compliance estimate and the appropriate limit is a relevant consideration in these circumstances. In October 2010 the information commissioner published a list of organisations that are being monitored because it appears they are not meeting the requirement to respond to freedom of information requests on time. They have either:It is interesting to note that out of 33 organisations on the list more than 55% are local authorities. The commissioner will monitor the authorities for three months, but may take action during this timeframe if an authority’s standard of compliance is revealed to be particularly poor, or if it is unwilling to make the improvements necessary.
QualitySolicitors has signed a deal with WHSmith enabling it to place a QS member of staff in 150 branches of the high street books and stationery giant, the Gazette can reveal. The deal will see QS open a ‘legal access point’ staffed by a local QS firm in WHSmith branches across the country. The partnership will begin with a QS presence in 150 branches this summer, to be rolled out to 500. QS employees staffing the access points will use iPad apps to book appointments for customers, provide conveyancing quotes, sell wills packages and fixed-fee advice sessions, and sign clients up to QS’s new loyalty card scheme. QS will also place free legal guides and advertising in WHSmith travel stores. The deal will be promoted through a QS television advertising campaign, which will also highlight QS Saturday openings and new fixed-fee services. QS chief executive Craig Holt said: ‘This move represents the future of legal services. It is a game changer, providing both the key elements required for market dominance – accessibility and visibility.’ He said the partnership provides the more accessible, consumer-friendly legal advice envisaged by the Legal Services Act 2007, without the perceived negative consequences of reduced service, since legal work will still be done by expert law firms and not unqualified staff in remote call centres. Holt said: ‘The level of awareness and recognition this will create for the QS brand is incomparable, and will fast forward us to “household name” status years ahead of target.’ Holt added that the move would mean that ‘the first port of call for a majority of people needing legal services will be to visit QS in their local WHSmith’. He declined to give details of the commercial arrangement with the retailer. WHSmith commercial development director Ian Sanders said: ‘We’re delighted to be able to offer our customers easy access to legal services through QS, and look forward to a long and successful partnership.’ Join our LinkedIn Human Rights sub-group
I read Ivan Sanders’ letter, in which he pointed out the failure of many firms of solicitors to comply with equality legislation, with particular regard to age discrimination. I too have noticed for some time that many advertisements do not comply. I am a 64-year-old solicitor, currently out of work, with over 45 years’ experience in commercial and residential property and other areas of law, with an impeccable work record, a recent masters degree in law at a top London university, and a recent diploma in local government law and practice. Despite my experience, I have been unable to find work. I think that the failure of some solicitors to comply with equality law is an absolute disgrace to the profession. In becoming solicitors, we commit to honour and uphold the law. Failure to advertise in a lawful manner suggests a lack of integrity to all those more mature and experienced solicitors applying for jobs. I note that president Obama employs people in his government who are in their 70s and 80s. These older and wiser individuals are valued and esteemed for their age and experience. I commend Mr Sanders for moving forward with his life by working out daily in the gym and competing for senior Team Europe. I too have decided to make a totally new career change. In September I begin an undergraduate degree in music at a top university where wisdom and maturity are appreciated. Peter M Ross, solicitor, Dorchester
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Stay at the forefront of thought leadership with news and analysis from award-winning journalists. Enjoy company features, CEO interviews, architectural reviews, technical project know-how and the latest innovations.Limited access to building.co.ukBreaking industry news as it happensBreaking, daily and weekly e-newsletters To continue enjoying Building.co.uk, sign up for free guest accessExisting subscriber? LOGIN Get your free guest access SIGN UP TODAY Subscribe to Building today and you will benefit from:Unlimited access to all stories including expert analysis and comment from industry leadersOur league tables, cost models and economics dataOur online archive of over 10,000 articlesBuilding magazine digital editionsBuilding magazine print editionsPrinted/digital supplementsSubscribe now for unlimited access.View our subscription options and join our community Subscribe now for unlimited access