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Same-sex marriages pencilled for 2015

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In a boost for equal rights campaigners and the LGBT community, gay couples will finally win the right to marry in the UK, despite opposition from the religious community and some MPs.

Same-sex marriages have been a thorny issue for the government in recent months, with some prominent Conservative MPs denouncing the move towards equality as a “hostile strike” on the traditional view of marriage.

The first gay weddings could take place by 2015 at the latest. But since announcing the move, some Tory right-wingers have given their backing to a new pressure group, Coalition for Marriage, which accused the government of having no mandate for the move.

The Home Office begins a consultation next month on how gay couples can be given the legal right to marry in a civil setting such as a register office, according to the Telegraph.

“This Government is promoting a fair society where people respect each other,” said Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister.

“I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, irrespective of whether they are gay or straight. We are not changing religious marriage, or requiring religious groups to go against their traditions.”

Margot James, the first openly lesbian Tory MP, has backed the government’s plan, but looked to appease those in the church who are vehemently against it, claiming: “The government isn’t introducing a change that will mean churches have to marry same-sex couples if they did not want to.

“There are many gay people who are committed people of faith. They have a profound need to marry in a more traditional setting than would be provided by a civil partnership.”

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 7, 2012 at 9:52 am

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

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Solicitor sues colleague over sexual harassment claim

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A married solicitor who is employed by Anglian Water and who was cleared of sexually harassing a female colleague is now suing her for libel claiming that the false allegations have damaged his personal and professional reputation.

Paul Loughran, 50, has been employed by Anglian Water for eight years as a litigation solicitor and is responsible for minimising legal risk to the company. He appointed Kerrie Edge, 29, as a paralegal in March 2009. Miss Edge had previously worked in the customer services department of the company.

In April last year she took time off work and provided a doctor’s note stating that she was suffering from stress. She remained off work until September when she resigned. Mr Loughran claims that Miss Edge took the time off to avoid a performance improvement plan and a misconduct investigation.

Mr Loughran discovered in August that she had made an allegation to the company that she had been sexually harassed by him. The claim was investigated by Anglian Water who went on to clear Mr Loughran.

He is now alleging slander and libel and claiming damages of £1,000.

Mr Loughran told the Daily Telegraph: “I’m not very happy about it, to say the least,”
“You can’t go around saying things like this. Miss Edge is attractive to some people, but not to me, and what she said simply was not true.

“I asked her to stop repeating the allegations and I even wrote to her asking for an apology, but none was forthcoming.”

When asked about the case Miss Edge said: “I have nothing to say about it at the moment. I do not work there anymore.”

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 6, 2012 at 9:46 am

New privacy policy implemented by Google despite EU warning

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Google, the internet company, has pressed on with its new privacy policy even though it has been warned by the EU that it contravenes European law.

The new policy will allow Google to share information collected on one service such as the Google search engine with others such as YouTube, Gmail and Blogger. Google have claimed that the changes will enable it to better tailor searches.

There has been, concerns, particularly in France that the new regime will breach European laws and a Europe-wide investigation has been launched. The CNIL which is France’s privacy watchdog has written to Google calling for a “pause” in the implementation of the new policy. They stated that: “The CNIL and EU data authorities are deeply concerned about the combination of personal data across services,”

The regulator added: “They have strong doubts about the lawfulness and fairness of such processing, and its compliance with European data protection legislation.”

Peter Fleisher, Google’s global privacy counsel responded by saying that he was happy to answer any concerns raised by CNIL. Writing in a blog Mr Fleischer stated: “As we’ve said several times over the past week, while our privacy policies will change on 1st March, our commitment to our privacy principles is as strong as ever,”

In the UK, campaign group Big Brother Watch have conducted a poll of more than 2,000 people which suggested that 47% of Google users in the UK were not aware of the policy changes and only 12% of users had read the new agreement. They have argued that more should be done to inform users of the changes.

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 5, 2012 at 8:43 am

Legal Aid preserved for claims in respect of brain-damaged babies and cases of domestic violence

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The Government has announced a concession to the controversial and sweeping legal aid reforms proposed under the Legal aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The Ministry of Justice has announced that claims for children who suffered brain damage at birth and those claiming in respect of domestic violence will still be entitled to financial support. The announcement comes as the Bill is headed for a vote in the House of Lords next week.

The Ministry said “The government is committed to supporting victims of domestic violence. We have laid an amendment to the legal aid bill which will put it beyond doubt that those who have suffered physical, psychological or financial domestic abuse will continue to receive a legal aid to help them to resolve any separation disputes over property or child contact.”

It went on “We also agree that clinical negligence claims in obstetrics cases which result in severe disability must receive legal aid. We have therefore brought forward an amendment which will make this clear in law. A safety net will continue to exist for other more serious and complex clinical negligence cases where there is a human rights issue.”

The Bill aims to remove many areas of public funding in the form of legal aid, instead pushing forward the alternative conditional fee agreement, which is commonly referred to as a ‘no win no fee’ arrangement. The concessions generally appear to have been welcomed by critics of the Bill, although there have been claims from some quarters that they do not go far enough.

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 4, 2012 at 8:41 am

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

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Smartphone divorces becoming more common

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Couples currently going through a divorce have been warned over the use of the smartphone, after research in the US found that texts are increasingly being used as evidence in divorce proceedings.

According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), over 90% of America’s top divorce attorneys said they have seen a spike in the number of cases using evidence from iPhones and other smartphones in the past three years.

The rise in texting evidence follows a similar trend two years ago when the AAML noticed a surge in evidence from Facebook pages.

“With emails you can think about and rewrite them. There is a window of opportunity to rethink what you are saying but text messaging is immediate,” said Ken Altshuler, President of the AAML. “We get a lot of text messages that people send out without thinking.”

Texts can often be a form of “spontaneous venting”, added Mr Altshuler, but they can come back to haunt people because they are written records of someone’s thoughts, actions and intentions.

“I have used text messaging for cross examination,” said Altshuler, who has also submitted texts as evidence. “I would say in the last six months there have been a lot of text messages involved in litigation. For whatever reason, people are texting more and not thinking about what they are texting.”

Text messaging was the most common form of divorce evidence taken from smartphones, according to the AAML poll, followed by emails, phone numbers, call histories, GPS and Internet search histories.

In turn, Mr Altshuler has advised his clients not to use Facebook, but added that only about half follow his advice.

“Anything that is in writing, you have to assume that someday a judge is going to see it,” he added. “So, if it is not something that you don’t want a judge to see, don’t write it down.”

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Government contemplates relaxing employment protection laws

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In a further effort to stimulate Britain’s flagging economy, Chancellor George Osborne is said to be considering a relaxation of employment protection legislation in next month’s Budget.

A story run in the Independent revealed that Conservative MPs are keen for Osborne to unveil a “go for growth” package in his Budget on 21 March, despite possible arguments with Liberal Democrats, which would lessen existing employment protection rights.

The news follows the controversial government-commissioned Beecroft report, which in 2011 suggested that employers should be granted permission to sack poorly-performing staff more easily through “no-fault dismissals”.

The government rejected Beecroft’s suggestions, electing instead to introduce “protected conversations” – which meant employers would be free to speak to employees about poor performance without fear of an employment tribunal. But reports suggest that Mr Osborne may make a U-turn.

Business minister Norman Lamb is said to be investigating a watered-down version of the Beecroft report, which will offer relaxed rules to employers with fewer than 10 employees.

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 3, 2012 at 8:40 am

European Court rules that part-time judges are entitled to pension

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The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that part time judges ought to be entitled to a pension. The case was brought by Dermod O’Brien QC who sat as a recorder judge for 27 years. He was denied a pension upon his retirement in 2005.

In making their judgement the court said the only way that it could be lawful to deny such pensions was if the relationship between the judge and the Ministry of Justice, responsible for their appointment, was “by its nature substantially different from that between employers and their employees falling under the category of workers.” Referring to the protections afforded in EU law to part-time workers, the court went on to explain that “a member state cannot remove at will certain categories of persons from the protection offered by that directive and the Framework Agreement on part-time work”.

The Court concluded that the nature of judicial office was not of itself enough to prevent part-time judges from enjoying the same protections offered under the relevant EU directive. The ECJ went on to list the factors which could be considered by the UK Supreme Court as sufficient to exclude a person from such protection.
The Court also drew on the fact that a barrister who sits as a judge may retain the right to practice law as a barrister but this did not deny him or her from the other rights associated with their judicial position, for example maternity or sick pay. The Court concluded that they were in a “comparable position” to full time judges.

Written by Andrew Hodges

April 3, 2012 at 8:37 am