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Parliament, Legislation And Public Sector

Scotland’s transition plans published

A Saltire to illustrate Scottish independence story in your Expert WitnessA paper outlining the process of Scotland’s transition to an independent country, should next year’s referendum go in favour of independence, has been published by its Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The paper, Scotland’s Future: from the referendum to independence and a written constitution, outlines a timetable for transition, with ‘independence day’ scheduled for March 2016, immediately ahead of the May 2016 Scottish parliament election. That, said the government, is in line with international precedent: of the 30 countries around the world that have become independent since 1945 following a referendum, the average length of time between the referendum and independence has been around 15 months.

Its publication comes just days after the Electoral Commission called on both sides of the campaign to set out the process following the referendum.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 15:44

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New, ‘simpler’ state pension plans announced

Official picture of Iain Duncan-Smith for Your Expert Witness storyExperts in the field of financial advice and pensions are busy digesting details of the plan unveiled by the Government for the 'simplification' of the state pension. The plans – published on 14 January – will see the creation of the 'single-tier' pension set above the means test (currently £142.70) and based on 35 years of National Insurance contributions. It will particularly benefit women, low earners and the self-employed, who under existing rules find it difficult to earn a full state pension, according to the Department of Work and Pensions.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith (pictured), said: "This reform is good news for women, who for too long have been effectively punished by the current system. The Single Tier will mean that more women can get a full state pension in their own right, and stop this shameful situation where they are let down by the system when it comes to retirement because they have taken time out to care for their family."

Last Updated on Monday, 14 January 2013 18:01

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Whiplash proposals face immediate backlash

Picture of car crash for Your Expert witness storyOn 12 December Justice Secretary Chris Grayling unveiled plans to tackle the 'huge number' of whiplash claims which it is claimed have been pushing up insurance costs.

A consultation was launched on new measures to bring down the number and cost of whiplash claims, including speculative and fraudulent applications. According to the MoJ, there were more than half a million whiplash claims last year; insurers estimate they add £90 a year to the average motor insurance policy.

The proposals under consultation include:
 Creating new independent medical panels to improve diagnosis of whiplash injuries. This will ensure that genuine claims can still go ahead, but exaggerated, misrepresented or fraudulent claims are robustly challenged.
 Options to allow more whiplash cases to be challenged in the small claims court, including raising the track threshold from £1,000 to £5,000.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "For too long honest drivers have been bearing the price of a system that has been open to abuse and it is time for that to change.

"We are proposing action to support effective whiplash diagnosis by medical experts and to simplify procedures which will help bring speculative or fraudulent claims before a judge – so genuine claims can still be settled but fraudsters are left in no doubt there will be no more easy pay days."

The changes are designed to tackle the excessive legal costs which too often mean it is cheaper for insurers to settle whiplash claims even if they suspect they are bogus – leading to higher premiums for all motorists.

The proposals were attacked by Shadow Justice Secretary Andy Slaughter, who claimed they would limit access to justice for injured parties.

He said: "The Government is using whiplash as a front for further restrictions in the provision of legal advice in road traffic accident claims, including ones which are medically and legally complex and serious. It is odd that the Government itself rejected raising the small claims limit for personal injury to £5,000 earlier this year, as have all previous reviews over the last 15 years, yet have now backtracked on this less than twelve months later.

"The outcome of this will be that victims will not have access to legal advice and will rely entirely on the insurance industry either to make them a low offer or sell them expensive legal insurance. This risks being a windfall for insurers but at no stage have consumers been given any indication that their car insurance premiums will fall."

Karl Tonks, president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) also attacked the proposals.

"The small claims court is designed for people to represent themselves, which may well work in disputes about faulty goods and services," he said, "but it won't help the hundreds of thousands of people who have serious and genuine injuries following road accidents."

"On top of that, even to begin to make a claim the claimant needs to be able to put a value on the nature of his injuries, but independent research has found that, in the case of a whiplash injury, for example, 70% of people would not know how much to claim.

"Defendants and their insurance companies, on the other hand, will know exactly how much a claim is worth and it is the duty of insurance companies to look after their shareholders, not injured people. Getting fair and just compensation really will be an uphill battle; many people will be put off from even trying."

The consultation runs until 8 March.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 December 2012 14:47

Committee urges caution on court televising

Picture of House of Lords for Your expert Witness storyThe Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee has urged caution on the televising of court proceedings.

In a report published on 26 November, the committee described as "too simplistic" the view that, because court proceedings are 'public', the right to respect for private life in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is "not engaged by provisions to confer power on the Lord Chancellor to lift restrictions on filming and broadcasting of court proceedings".

"We agree with the Government's objective of making justice as transparent and publicly accessible as possible," the committee said, "but we are not satisfied that the Government has adequately consulted interested parties nor properly assessed the likely impact of conferring the power to lift filming and broadcasting restrictions on the operation of the criminal justice system."

In particular the committee expressed concern that vulnerable victims, such as those of child abuse or other sexual offences, "might be deterred from coming forward with their complaints, that witnesses also may be deterred from coming forward because greater publicity will exacerbate the perceived risk of intimidation, and that certain defendants such as children may not receive the protection their vulnerability demands."

Reported in the Law Society Gazette, committee chair Dr Hywel Francis MP said: "The power in the Bill is too broad. The Government's current intention is to limit filming to the appellate courts, with the possible addition of sentencing remarks in the Crown court in due course.

"However, as currently drafted, it could too easily be extended to include filming of witnesses, parties, crime victims, jurors and defendants – a very different proposition, which could have the unintended consequence of deterring victims and witnesses, and possibly even undermining the fairness of trials."

It is, he said, potentially a slippery slope. "We would urge the government to move more thoughtfully with wider public consultation and a more detailed impact assessment."

• Report contains Parliamentary information licenced under Open Parliament Licence v1.0

Last Updated on Monday, 26 November 2012 16:59

Goldring warns experts against fee ‘padding’

Picture of money for Your Expert Witness fees storyLord Goldring, the senior presiding judge of England and Wales, has warned expert witnesses against 'padding out' their charges to compensate for new hourly rates. They could face fixed fees if they are found to be doing so, he told the 18th annual Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference on 9 November.

Lord Goldring told the conference that, since the Government's attempt to save on experts' fees, which cost £160m in 2011, "...the number of hours worked per case has increased significantly".

He added: "The cynics out there may conclude that some people are padding it out to get the same fees they got before." If it were true, he said, it could lead Government to introduce some kind of fixed-fee system.

The claim, reported by the Law Society Gazette, was immediately attacked by experts. Commenting on the Gazette report, one expert demanded to see the evidence of increased hours. She quoted the Norgrave Family Justice Report, which accused the Ministry of Justice and Legal Services Commission of a lack of systematic collection of information. Other experts pointed out that many had previously not logged all the hours worked but were now more assiduous in claiming what they were entitled to because of the cut in hourly rate.

In the same keynote speech Lord Goldring also said that ‘hot-tubbing’ will become available in all civil proceedings from April. It follows a generally successful pilot in Manchester Technology and Construction Court last year.

Last Updated on Monday, 12 November 2012 18:27