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Archive for February, 2015

The Exorbitant Price Of Law Books

The profitability of law publishing

Law books are almost always prohibitively expensive. Some titles, costing hundreds of pounds, are marketed as “essential” texts. They have a guaranteed sale of perhaps tens of thousands. Selling books is notoriously difficult. These books sell themselves. They are updated annually and thus the sales and profits are guaranteed every year. Small, independent legal publishers have virtually disappeared in England. The production of law books is increasingly under the control of American multinational companies. These companies are purely profit-driven.

The legal publishing industry is very profitable. A core number of legal textbooks have a guaranteed minimum sale. For example, Stone’s Justices Manual, Archbold on Criminal Procedure and the White Book (the leading Civil Procedure textbook) are as essential to sections of the legal profession as pliers are to an electrician.

These books cost several hundred pounds. They are not generally available to non-lawyers because of their price, which makes guaranteed profits for the American-controlled multinational companies which largely run English legal publishing. The detail of most legal rules is contained in these publications which the vast majority of the population cannot access. The mysteries of the law, once again, are surrounded by a money fence.

The difficulty of access to law publishing by non-professionals further removes knowledge of the law from professional specialists.

The money imperative of the English law business and its attendants is well-illustrated by the price of law books.

Some areas of law are crucially important for non-lawyers in their everyday lives. For example, employment law deserves to be intelligible to the averagely literate person, and employment law rules should be easily available to anyone with problems in the workplace.

The key source for employment law is Harvey on Industrial Relations and Employment Law, a five-volume looseleaf work, priced at £1,179, or almost 200 hours of work at the national minimum wage.

Another key sourcebook is Sweet and Maxwell’s Encyclopedia of Employment Law, price £1,397.

Recently, a book entitled “Employment Court Practice” has been published, price £275. This closely follows the style of the White Book and is a new court reference book for employment practitioners. The strange thing about this book is that there appears to be no employment court in the United Kingdom. This publication marks a further step in the move away from public accessibility to the employment tribunal and its domination by lawyers.

More specifically, in the area of disability discrimination, Doyle’s Disability Discrimination: Law and Practice, costs a mere £49, or nine hours at the national minimum wage.

Books on health and safety law are also out of the range for most workers, for example:

  • Sweet and Maxwell’s Encyclopedia of Environmental Health law and Practice at £1,165.
  • Redgrave’s Health and Safety is cheaper, at £242.
  • Turning to family law, it may be idle to expect that literate people with family problems should have access to the legal rules. If they want to buy books to educate themselves through the family law labyrinth, they should be advised of the following:
  • Rayden and Jackson on Divorce and Family Matters: £935.
  • Duckworth’s Matrimonial Property and Finance: £478.Perhaps the right to a fair trial, guaranteed by the European Convention and the Human Rights, is of such basic importance that all citizens should be able to know its implications. They may be dismayed to know that the leading book on Human Rights Practice costs £540, and a text on Human Rights and Criminal Justice is priced at £153.Tax law is best left to specialists and the rich, given the price of Simon’s Direct Tax Service at £2,900.
  • Civil procedure is also best avoided by the averagely well-off. The White Book Service is advertised as being the biggest source of reference on civil procedure in the country. Its authority is considered to be second to none by judges, barristers and solicitors alike as well as amongst in-house counsel and many other users of civil court texts. The price? A mere £510.
  • Criminal law is also of real interest to those whose liberty or reputation might be at risk from a criminal prosecution. If they want to own a copy of Archbold, Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, they will need to find £475. Stone’s Justices Manual, the magistrates’ bible, costs £645.

Tata Steel: Serious Molten Metal Burns: Massive Fine

Molten metal burns: £200,000 fine

Health and Safety Executive v Tata Steel Ltd (2015) Swansea Crown Court, February 16

Tata Steel Ltd has been fined following an incident in which three workers suffered serious burns from molten steel.

Significant points of the case

  • In April 2013 Kevin Watts, a trainee crane driver employed by Tata, and two workmates, escaped from the top of a crane when a ladle containing 300 tonnes of molten metal dislodged and spilled. They had been operating an electric overhead crane which carried the ladle. One of the hooks on the ladle was not working properly.
  • The metal caught fire and reached the cab of the crane. Watts suffered severe burns on his head and forearms. His colleagues suffered less serious burns.
  • The crane’s camera system had not been operating properly for some time. This had been reported on near-miss and pre-use checks but had not been remedied.
  • Lighting, which employees stated was poor, cut out completely during the incident.
  • Training documents were ambiguous and instructions had not been communicated to all drivers.

Tata was fined £200,000 plus £11,000 costs for a breach of section 2, HSW Act, for failing to ensure the health and safety of employees.

An HSE inspector made the following comments after the case:

  • Given the potential consequences of a ladle of holding 300 tonnes of molten metal spilling its load onto the floor, control measures should be watertight. The incident could have been avoided if safety measures, which were introduced after the incident, had been in place at the time.
  • Companies must maintain plant and machinery properly and instruct, train, inform and supervise staff consistently if they are going to prevent injury.

‘eBay’-style Court Resolution Proposed

Earlier this week, the civil justice council released a report proposing an online court system for dealing with claims up to £25,000. The report drew on the success of the eBay’s disagreement negotiation procedure which facilitates settlements for around 60 million disagreements between traders per year. The proposed online dispute resolution (ODR) model suggests a three-tier process:
• evaluation through interactive services and information
• negotiation with online “facilitators”
• resolution by a trained judge relying on electronic submissions.

In this process, only the judge at the last stage needs to be legally qualified. Telephone hearings are frequently utilised during the preparation of the case during pre-trial stages and could equally be used in the resolution stage. The system could be available within two years.

The move is designed to increase access to justice. As the report’s lead author Prof Richard Susskind comments, “the current system is too costly, too complex and too slow, especially for litigants in person.” The Ministry of Justice has already recognised the need to modern technology within the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

With cuts to legal aid and access to lawyers limited, there is an increasing amount of litigants in person. As the report commented, “our civil justice system is creaking…many would argue that we have indeed run out of money.”

Many practical issues arise, such as public access and desire to attend courtroom. Of the more serious issues, compelling parties’ participation, Prof. Susskind suggested a form of online reputation system, such as those used on TripAdvisor, may be required.

This novel approach does indeed tackle the serious financial issues facing the UK civil justice system at the moment, whilst incorporating modern technology which other sectors utilise. Lord Dyson, chairman of the civil justice council, commented that;
“There is no doubt that ODR has enormous potential…We have been very slow off the mark in this country. I was in Singapore and Australia           recently and I was ashamed to see what they are doing there. When you go around our county courts you see mountains of paper                                 everywhere.”

Reform is certainly required, whether the legal establishment will be embracing of such radical changes, however, remains to be seen.


91-year Old Jailed For 9 Years: What’s The Point?

The news that a 91-year old former PE teacher has been jailed for 9 years for sexually abusing schoolboys raises a number of points:

1. The offences were committed between 1957 and 1978. They included hitting boys with a whalebone and sexually abusing boys after showering.

2. It seems doubtful that the offender will complete his sentence.

3. It also seems clear that rehabilitation plays no part in the sentence, which appears to be retributive and to have some   deterrent effect.

4. Those of us unfortunate enough to have passed through the public school system in the late 1950s may well have memories of masters who could face prosecution. Unfortunately, most if not all of them are dead.


Employment Tribunal Fees: Sex Discrimination: High Court Decision

SEX DISCRIMINATION

Employment tribunal fees

Case  R (on the application of Unison) v Lord Chancellor (No.2) [2015] IRLR 99, High Court

Statute reference   Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013

Facts In July 2013 fees for bringing employment tribunal claims were introduced. Unison challenged this scheme on the basis that it rendered employment rights illusory and that it operated in an indirectly discriminatory way with respect to women. The union submitted that the number of claims had reduced by 79 per cent.

Decision      1. The imposition of fees was in principle a legitimate aim designed to ensure that users of the service made a contribution towards its cost.

  1. The court had no evidence that any individual had been unable to bring a claim because of cost.
  2. It was not disputed that the proportion of women who brought discrimination claims was greater than the proportion of men. But it was necessary to test any provision, criterion or practice by focusing on all those who were subject to it. It was not legitimate to take a self-selected group.
  3. The scheme taken overall, particularly having regard to the arrangements designed to relieve the poorest from the obligation to pay, had been justified and proportionate to any discriminatory effect. Moreover, costs were recoverable, in general at least, if the claim succeeded.
  4. The challenge failed.

Benefit Fraud And Tax Avoidance

Benefit Fraud

From time to time, civil servants enforcing welfare benefit rules proudly announce that they have uncovered widespread fraud and that “welfare cheats” are to be prosecuted. These purges are welcomed and praised by sections of the mass media. The boast is that taxpayers have been saved huge amounts of money by the successful undercover surveillance and exposure of benefit cheats. Advertising campaigns urge the public to inform on welfare cheats.

The reality is that the sums of money saved and recovered are derisory in comparison, for example, with the following:

  • Widely-known and accepted, legal or semi-legal, tax avoidance and evasion schemes.
  • Money wasted by the state in many ways. For example ,in 2008 Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist at the World Bank, and Linda Bilmes, a leading American economist, published The Three Trillion Dollar War: the true cost of the Iraq conflict. Their conclusion was that the total cost of the Iraq war to the US would be $3 trillion and the total cost to Britain would be £20 billion.

It has been commented that the bloodhounds who track down the benefit cheats should be let loose on the tax avoiders, the arms traders and those who have wasted unimaginable amounts of money on illegal wars.


Renewable Technology Death Fall: Health And Safety Prosecution

Death fall: company and subcontractors fined

Health and Safety Executive v Alumet Renewable Technologies Ltd, Midlands Solar Solutions Ltd and Rugby Scaffolding Services Ltd (2015) Coventry Crown Court, February 6.

Three companies have been fined following the death of a worker in a fall.

Significant points of the case

  • In May 2012 Kevin Brookes, an employee of Midlands Solar Solutions, was installing solar panels on a roof. He attempted to retrieve a drill which had started to slide towards the edge of the roof. He slipped and fell seven metres to the ground, suffering fatal injuries.
  • Alumet Ltd was the principal contractor for the project. It had failed to put an adequate health and safety plan in place. The measures outlined in its plan were not sufficient to protect the workers. The measures which were in place had not been followed.
  • The roof’s edge protection did not meet nationally agreed standards and employees of Rugby Scaffolding had not been properly trained or supervised.
  • There were unsuitable provisions in place to prevent people falling through skylights.

The following fines were imposed:

  • Alumet: £50,000 plus £12,000 costs under section 3, HSW Act, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees.
  • Rugby Scaffolding: £60,000 plus £12,000 for the same offence.
  • Midlands Solar Solutions: £50,000 plus £12,000 costs for a breach of section 2, HSW Act, for failing to ensure the health and safety of non-employees.

Raul Castro’s Speech To CELAC Summit

Extracts highly relevant to lawyers include:

* The is little that many industrial nations can show our region since half their youths are unemployed, and the weight of the crisis falls on the workers and students they suppress. On the other hand, they protect bankers, prevent the organisation of trade unions, pay women lower salaries for equal work and apply inhumane policies against immigrants. Meanwhile, racism, xenophobia, violent extremism and neofascist tendencies gain ground, and the people do not vote because they see no alternative to corruption in politics or because they know that election-time promises are soon forgotten.

* We should go beyond structural gaps, ensure a free and high-quality education, provide free and universal healthcare coverage, social security and similar opportunities to all, and the full exercise of all human rights by every person.

* A new economic, financial and monetary international order is required where the interests and necessities of the South nations are not only included and given a priority, but also where those imposing neoliberalism and the concentration of capital cannot prevail.


Offshore Death: Health And Safety Prosecution

Offshore death: £100,000 fine

Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service v Bilfinger Salamis UK Ltd (2015) Aberdeen Sheriff Court, February 2

Bilfinger Salamis UK Ltd, an offshore services company, has been fined after a worker was killed on a North Sea platform.

Significant points of the case

  • In June 2011 Lee Bertram was working on a platform in the North Sea operated by the company.
  • He was using ropes to access dropped objects which could fall into the sea and potentially injure divers working below.
  • He successfully abseiled below the deck. As he was starting his ascent to the deck his abseil ropes sheared against the sharp edges of a hatch. He fell 23 metres to the sea below, striking steelwork as he fell. He suffered fatal injuries.
  • The job which the deceased was undertaking had not been properly planned and was contrary to industry guidelines and the company’s own procedures.
  • If the work had been properly planned, the edge of the hatch would have been identified as being sharp. The risk of rigged ropes coming into contact with it could have been prevented.

The company was fined £100,000 for a breach of regulation 4, Work at Height Regulations 2005, for failing to ensure that work at height was properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a manner which was, so far as reasonably practicable, safe.