The Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to fine a pub landlord for breaching the Football Assocaition Premier League’s copyright by showing football matches using a foreign-channel satellite card.In Football Association Premier League v Luxton, the Court of Appeal dismissed Anthony Luxton’s appeal against a 2014 High Court ruling.In that ruling, Mrs Justice Rose granted the Football Assocation Premier League (FAPL) summary judgment against Luxton. He was ordered to pay £65,000 in legal costs.Luxton, who owns The Rhyddings pub in Swansea, showed several games using a decoder card. The games were broadcast by a Danish television station.The FA took issue with the broadcasts because the decoder card was not licensed for use in a commercial venue or for public performances.Although he accepted that the decoder card was not authorised for commercial use, Luxton sought to defend the action for infringement of the Premier League’s copyright.He first alleged that the proceedings were an illicit attempt on the part of the Premier League to stop people using foreign decoder cards.Secondly, he claimed that the arrangements between the Premier League and its exclusive licensees elsewhere in Europe prevented him from being supplied with a foreign decoder card authorised for commercial use.However, the Court of Appeal sided with the High Court in dismissing the claims.According to Lord Justice Floyd, the ‘fundamental difficulty’ with this way of putting the case is that ‘I do not think it can accurately be said, except perhaps in the loosest possible sense, that Luxton’s use of the domestic card was the consequence of the FAPL’s agreements and practices’.Luxton was represented by Rochdale-based Molesworths Bright Clegg, while international firm DLA Piper acted for the FA.
The financial muscle of the litigation funding market today became apparent as one of its biggest operators posted annual profits beyond £100m for the first time.Burford Capital announced to the London Stock Exchange that operating profit increased for the 2016 calendar year by 61% to £102m.Income increased in the same period by 59% to a record £135m.Burford, which works with law firms from offices in London, New York and Chicago, said the demand for capital from the legal sector was reflected in record new litigation finance investment commitments.The company now has around £311m staked in litigation across the world, 83% more than at the end of 2015.Burford noted that the acquisition of fellow investor, Chicago-based Gerchen Keller Capital, in December has added around £1bn of new assets and enable greater scale and income diversification.Christopher Bogart, chief executive of Burford, said: ‘The acquisition of Gerchen Keller Capital capped a strong year and positioned Burford for the future, with increased scale and the ability to source both public and private capital as our business continues to grow and expand. With an 80-plus strong team, including 40 experienced lawyers, and the largest capital base in the business, we are committed to serving clients around the world as the premier provider of capital and risk solutions to the legal sector.’The company’s share price rose by 2.4% to 752.5p in the hour after the results were announced, a trebling of value in a year. The annual dividend increased by 14.4% in US dollar terms and by 38.3% in sterling.Meanwhile, another litigation funder has become the first of its kind to open operations in Germany.Therium Group Holdings, which has almost £250m committed to litigation around the world, has added a Dusseldorf office after identifying a ‘substantial’ market for litigation funding in the country.This is attributed to the increasing number of corporate and commercial legal disputes within a regulatory environment that has become more complex in recent years.Neil Purslow, chief investment officer, said: ‘We have been active in Germany for some time but the increasing demand for our expertise from both lawyers and claimants across financial services and other areas make this a natural point to open an office in the country.’
A solicitor and the firm where he is a partner have been ordered to pay more than £16,000 in fines and costs for refusing to hand over documents needed as part of an investigation into a pension scam.Anthony Wilson and Ashley Wilson Solicitors, the Knightsbridge firm where he is managing partner, pleaded guilty to refusing to provide documents without reasonable excuse at Brighton Magistrates’ Court this week.District Judge Christopher James ordered Wilson to pay a £4,000 fine plus £7,500 costs. Ashley Wilson Solicitors was ordered to pay a £2,700 fine and £2,500 costs.According to The Pensions Regulator, which brought the case, it is the first criminal conviction it has secured.Wilson failed to provide the required documents despite requests for almost nine months.The documents related to a property linked to an individual who was involved in a pension scam investigation.Neither Wilson nor the firm was connected with the investigation and there was no suggestion that their staff had done anything wrong in their dealings with the property, TPR said.Despite TPR making numerous requests for the information, it was only when it obtained a search warrant for the firm’s offices in March last year that the documents were secured.Judge James said that information notices were an important enforcement tool for TPR that had been used appropriately.Nicola Parish, executive director of frontline litigation at TPR, said: ‘Our staff received a series of woeful excuses rather than the information they had requested. This was a case of the company refusing to comply with the law. Legal action could have been avoided if Wilson or someone else at the firm had simply handed over the documents, as they should have done, because the information had already been retrieved from storage.’Wilson told the Gazette: ’I personally made errors of judgement in relation to my communications with the Pensions Regulator for which I personally have accepted full responsibility and readily acknowledge. As a consequence I ultimately felt it appropriate to plead guilty to the offence. However, I do not feel that there were any circumstances which justified the regulator pursuing a criminal prosecution against the firm when my partners had absolutely no knowledge of the Pensions Regulator’s request. There was clearly no intention to deceive or mislead the Pensions Regulator in any way and no loss was suffered. The Pensions Regulator acknowledged that there was nothing of interest to it on the file in any event.’
A car insurer has cited the claims environment as a factor after a former employee was bribed to pass on customers’ data. Tracey Miller, 42, from Oldham, was handed a suspended two-year prison sentence and a £4,500 compensation order for bribery offences after she made that amount through the sale of confidential details.Miller had stolen customer information from her employer Aviva’s third party care team database in order to sell it.She told officers she was first approached by a man she did not know when leaving work in 2013. She then supplied the man with data between May to August 2013 and received £4,500 worth in payments.In December 2013, Miller took voluntary redundancy from Aviva, and two months later the firm provided information to help an investigation by the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department.When officers discovered a hard drive following an arrest warrant in November 2015, Aviva’s investigation manager identified that 2.5% of the recovered data was its own, and further enquiries showed Miller was the sole person who had accessed that data.She admitted she had sent the man data and received money for doing so: she was sentenced on 30 June at Burnley Crown Court.Speaking after the conviction, a spokesperson for Aviva suggested the money that can be made from personal claims was a factor in the case: ‘Until the financial incentives at the heart of the injury claims process are removed, consumers and their insurers will continue to be targets for those who seek to profit from accident claims.’City of London Police’s detective sergeant Matt Hussey said the firm and its investigations team had worked together to ensure Miller was brought to justice.He added: ‘Miller abused her position of trust within her organisation and instead of doing the right thing and alerting her employer about being approached by a fraudster, she instead greedily decided to set-up a deal with him.’
The High Court has upheld a finding of professional misconduct against a criminal silk who was judged by a disciplinary tribunal to have implied in court that a 16-year-old victim of sex assault victim bore some kind of responsibility for her attack.In a decision handed down last week, the court dismissed the appeal by Howard Godfrey QC against the finding by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS) last year.Godfrey, who was representing a man sentenced for sexually assaulting the girl, was found by the tribunal to have made ‘offensive and unnecessary’ comments. He was reprimanded and ordered to attend a training course on ‘advocacy and the vulnerable’. Godfrey appealed against the finding of guilt but not against the sanction. The offence in question occured in 2015 when the QC, a member of 2 Bedford Row, was making submissions in an appeal against his client’s sentence. The tribunal’s ruling, in May last year, found Godfrey that had behaved in a way ‘likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in the profession’.In judgment the court noted that Godfrey’s comments had been picked up by the media. According to the judgment, one local newspaper report of the hearing recorded (accurately) Godfrey’s remarks that ‘This [the victim] was not a young and innocent girl’ and that she was ‘not unaccustomed to drinking.’The judgment, by Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Spencer, noted that the tribunal reached the clear conclusion that the breach passed the threshold of seriousness required to establish professional misconduct. It added: ‘We are conscious of the appellant’s lengthy and otherwise unblemished legal career. However, regrettably, we are satisfied that the tribunal was entitled, indeed right to reach the conclusions that it did.’
The Ministry of Justice is getting in position to change the discount rate applied to personal injury settlements as early as next summer with a new call for evidence.The government is changing the law on setting the discount rate through the Civil Liability Bill, currently awaiting royal assent. It has previously been suggested the current negative rate of -0.75% – supplementing payouts to victims – could be altered as soon as next summer.This deadline looks more realistic given the MoJ has now asked for evidence on where to set the rate even before the bill comes into law, and will close this consultation at the end of January.In a foreword to the call for evidence, justice secretary David Gauke says calculating the rate was a ‘demanding and technical exercise’ which must be set fairly and accurately. ‘Your contribution may make the difference between victims of dangerous driving, clinical negligence or workplace accidents receiving the right compensation and their awards being inadequate or excessive,’ adds Gauke. ‘Excessive compensation unfairly diverts money that could be spent on hospitals and other frontline public services and drives up the cost of insurance, particularly for motorists.’The call for evidence asks for information on investments available to and made by claimants, investment advice provided, taxation, inflation and investment management costs.The Civil Liability Bill provides that, in setting the rate, the lord chancellor must start a first review within 90 days of the legislation receiving royal assent, and must determine the rate within 140 days of the review starting. Subsequent reviews will take place at least once every five years.For the first review, the lord chancellor must consult with the Government Actuary and the Treasury: for the second and subsequent reviews he must consult with an expert panel chaired by the Government Actuary, and the Treasury.Insurers complained bitterly when former lord chancellor Liz Truss changed the rate in 2017 from a discount of 2.5% to the current -0.75%. The 2.5% rate had previously been in place since 2001.The government’s has previously said its evidence shows that the present system regarding the setting of the discount rate is likely to be producing ‘significant levels of over-compensation’.
Three solicitors – including a trainee who insisted she was acting under instructions – have been struck off after an investigation uncovered false bills, misappropriated client funds and misled regulators. Jonathan Ippazio De Vita and Christopher John Platt, partners at the closed North Lincolnshire firm De Vita Platt, were banned by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal after panel members found allegations of dishonesty proved. The tribunal said both had been motivated by self-enrichment, their misconduct was planned, and each had breached the trust of clients. A third individual, Emily Scott, who was a trainee solicitor with the firm before leaving in November 2014, was also struck off despite the tribunal expressing ‘considerable sympathy’. Scott, who had blown the whistle on misconduct within the firm, had been found to have carried out her superiors’ instructions as she wanted to stay in her job. But citing the High Court’s judgment in James, the tribunal added: ‘The fact that [Scott] was under pressure and working in a horrendous environment could not excuse [her] dishonesty.’ The tribunal heard submissions from the Solicitors Regulation Authority that the firm had overcharged one client by 492%. The regulator’s evidence was based on a report from a costs lawyer and the figure was described by the SRA as an ‘extraordinary amount… so high that it must be deliberate and could not be an oversight’. Platt denied deliberately overcharging clients and stated that he believed the work was being carried out as Scott had told him this. This was contradicted by evidence from Scott and his defence was rejected by the tribunal, with the allegation of dishonesty found proved. The tribunal said in one matter there was ‘no evidence’ of anything approaching the amount of work that would have been needed to justify the bills being raised, and Platt knew the bills generated did not reflect work done. Platt was also found to have drawn down funds, and/or instructed Scott to draw down funds, worth £6,500 from a client’s legal funding loan without the client’s knowledge or permission. Further allegations proved against Platt included causing or allowing a shortage on the client account and failing to properly supervise Scott. The tribunal found it not proved that De Vita completed a certificate of identity form with an incorrect date with the intention to mislead HM Land Registry. But he was found to have falsely claimed to have met the clients at his office. He was further found to have acted recklessly in causing or allowing a £44,000 shortage on one client account. Scott admitted she had raised bills for work not carried out, and failed to initially report the misconduct, but told the tribunal she acted ‘under duress and under the instruction of [Platt] and not through choice’. She feared for her job if she made a report as it would have been obvious who had done it. The tribunal found the mere act of her typing a bill was not the same as raising one and she was cleared of misconduct for this. But she was found to have acted dishonestly when, acting under the instruction of Platt, she falsified and backdated letters forming part of a file to be sent to the Legal Ombudsman after a client had complained. The 81-page tribunal judgment followed a four-day hearing attended by Scott but not by Platt or De Vita. The partners were ordered to jointly pay £143,457 in costs, with Scott ordered to pay £2,077.
A year-long investigation by the Law Society has concluded that algorithm-based machine-learning has the potential to improve the criminal justice system – but warns of ‘a worrying lack of oversight’ over current experiments. In a report published today, Chancery Lane’s technology and law policy commission on algorithms in the criminal justice system says that ad-hoc deployments by police forces of systems to predict crimes and monitor the behaviour of individuals must be given legal certainty. Christina BlacklawsThe commission also recommends measures to improve transparency and accountability – and for the operators of the new technology to comply with the public sector equality duty. Echoing the findings of recent studies in the US and the UK, the report raises the spectre of artificial intelligence reinforcing rather than eliminating human prejudices. It warns that policy decisions could be ‘baked into algorithmic systems made invisibly and unaccountably by contractors and vendors’. However the report is notably more positive than other recent studies about the potential for algorithm-based machine-learning – currently the most promising form of ‘artificial intelligence’ – so long as it is deployed in the right way. It concludes that: ‘The United Kingdom has a window of opportunity to become a beacon for a justice system trusted to use technology well, with a social licence to operate and in line with the values and human rights underpinning criminal justice. It must take proactive steps to seize that window now.’The commission’s 80-page report is based on submissions from lawyers, academics, police forces, civil society groups and others in writing and at public hearings. Chair Christina Blacklaws, who has made technology a central theme of her year-long presidency of the Law Society, commented that: ‘Within the right framework, algorithmic systems – whether facial recognition technology, predictive policing or individual risk assessment tools – can deliver a range of benefits in the justice system, from efficiency and efficacy to accountability and consistency.’At the moment however ‘there is a worrying lack of oversight or framework to mitigate some hefty risks – of unlawful deployment, of discrimination or bias that may be unwittingly built in by an operator’.These dangers are exacerbated by the absence of transparency, centralised coordination or systematic knowledge-sharing between public bodies, Blacklaws said. The report is published today at a London conference on artificial intelligence in the justice system attended by the lord chancellor, David Gauke MP. ‘We need to build a consensus rooted in the rule of law, which preserves human rights and equality, to deliver a trusted and reliable justice system now and for the future,’ Blacklaws said.
The coronavirus outbreak continued to take its toll during the peak legal conference season with the postponement of next week’s Legalex event.Organisers said today the decision had been taken to reschedule the exhibition for 2 and 3 December.The event, being held at the ExCel Centre in east London, was due to feature 100 seminars from various figures in the legal industry and attract up to 3,500 visitors over the two days.Organisers yesterday said they intended to go ahead with the show next week, but the Gazette heard from exhibitors during the day who had pulled out and it was considered this was the only option in the current environment.In a statement, Legalex said: ‘The global impact of this situation, not least upon international travel and resulting restrictions imposed by many organisations, means that after discussions with all parties we have taken the decision to postpone.‘The health and safety of our visitors, exhibitors and staff will always be our number one priority.’The government and its health advisers have moved the UK’s position from ‘containing’ the virus to ‘delaying’ it, but have opted against banning mass gatherings of people, as has been implemented in other European countries.The outbreak has already resulted in a number of event cancellations over the coming week. But the official launch of Women in Family Law, scheduled for London this evening, will go ahead as planned.In a tweet yesterday, organisers said: ‘Event still happening!! We look forward to seeing all of our guests, but in line with other public events, we kindly ask that all refrain from shaking hands when greeting others. We want everyone to feel comfortable on the night and not feel constrained by social conventions.’
Notifications of claims against solicitors went up during lockdown, according to research by international brokers Marsh, as firms are warned that home working could lead to more professional mistakes.Between 24 March and 3 August 2020, a sample of 28 large and medium sized firms generated 82 claims notifications, compared with 68 during the same period last year. Marsh’s study found that private client work and real estate saw particularly sharp increases, while notifications concerning dispute resolution were down.During a webinar held by City firm DAC Beachcroft, Marsh said the figures are ‘statistically significant’ and point to a number of emerging trends.Catrin Davies, a partner at DAC Beachcroft who specialises in defending claims against solicitors, predicted that the wills and probate sector will see ‘a lot more claims’ as a result of Covid-19.‘At the beginning of lockdown, private client practitioners were extremely busy with people who didn’t have wills, and those who had wills wanting to change [them]…That will inevitably lead to some mistakes.’She added that the government’s intention to legalise remote witnessing could also cause problems. ‘There will be issues coming in around whether people use electronic signatures, which obviously are not permitted; there will be identification issues; and there will also be the usual issues of undue influence with added complications.’DAC Beachcroft partner Ross Risby said homeworking could also contribute to a rise in claims.‘The change in working practices…over the last few months is likely to not only result in a short-term blip in the type or flavour of notifications,’ he said. ‘It is also going to lead to law firms needing to focus on finessing their risk management practices in order to cater for the fact there is more home working going on, less face to face contact and in my view, less supervision.’