Friday, November 29, 2013

Drink Driving Rates At Their Lowest: But Could Law Do More?

Brought to you by our friends at McMillans Solicitors

As winter approaches, police forces tend to see a gradual increasing trend of drink driving rates compared with other times of the year – whether it’s Christmas parties or people tempted to drive home rather than walking in an attempt to avoid the bitterly cold weather, the statistics make us all hugely aware of this problem.

Earlier this year, the Department for Transport released its revised drink driving accident figures for 2012, and in November the Emergency Medicine Journal showed that annual car deaths are at their lowest in 50 years. This guest post, provided by McMillans Solicitors, looks at the wider statistics to ask whether changes in law are necessary.

Will The Rates Begin To Rise As Law Remains Unchanged?

Looking at the figures over the last three years as a whole, drink driving accident rates in the UK are at the lowest they’ve ever been since records began, and the overall number of car deaths in England and Wales are down 40% in 50 years – so current laws are working, right?

Well, not necessarily – isolated figures just for 2012 show a 26% rise in drink driving deaths, and research released this month from the Emergency Medicine Journal suggests that road accidents are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death by the year 2030.

There have been a wide range of suggested changes to laws ranging from calls for a reduction in blood-alcohol limits to immediate driving bans for anyone awaiting trial for a drink driving offence. The latter comes from the family of a teenage student killed by a (now convicted) drink driver, stemming from their understandable frustration at the accused being able to continue driving before standing trial.

Would such a drastic change be actually helpful, or is it merely a grief-fuelled reaction? The effect on potentially innocent or those whose cases would fall within special reasons may be negatively affected – facing job losses or ‘exceptional hardship’ before they’re able to show they shouldn’t be banned.

Are Changes Necessary Or Would They Be Reactionary?

As it stands, the UK’s laws on drink driving are considered by some to be far too liberal when compared with other EU countries; the maximum legal limit is currently 80mg per 100ml of blood, which is higher than any other European country (except for Malta, whose limit is also 80mg).  

The UK’s Institute for Alcohol Studies has conducted research that suggests drivers with 50-80mg of alcohol per 100ml are at six times greater a risk of dying in an accident when compared with drivers who haven’t drunk anything – yet they would still be legally fine to drive. So it would seem that, for some changes, evidence exists for changes in the law, and many organisations have called for this shift in legal limits.

As well as the IAS, who carried out this research, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) have also called for stricter limits on alcohol levels for drink-related motoring offences, hoping to bring the UK (at the very least) in line with a vast majority of other EU countries at 0.05%.

In all likelihood, major shifts in in-depth drink driving law are unlikely – anything significant will likely come from case law. However, based on IAS research, the introduction of a lower legal limit (ie. 50mg per 100ml) could have massively beneficial knock-on effects.

This guest post was written by Tom McShane – blogger, driver and writer for McMillans Solicitors, who are a UK-based drink driving solicitors firm.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Recommendation: The New Penguin Guide to the Law by John Pritchard

  This book is established as the best home reference guide to the law. It covers all aspects of the subject in an easy, accessible style which cuts through the legalease of the normal law guides. New topics covered in the fifth edition include pensions, child support changes, tax credits, squatters, unmarried fathers and parental responsibility, pre-nuptial contracts, the Adoption and Children Act 2002, commonhold, leasehold enfranchisement, limited liability partnerships and the Enterprise Act. In particular, there have been extensive updates to the employment section of the book, covering new disciplinary and grievance procedures introduced by the Employment Act 2002, new rights for fixed term and part time workers, adoption leave, paternity leave and maternity leave rights and a new right to request flexible working and changes to discrimination law. Available from Amazon

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Recommendation: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

For almost a quarter of a century, John Grisham's A Time to Kill has captivated readers with its raw exploration of race, retribution, and justice. Now, its hero, Jake Brigance, returns to the courtroom in a dramatic showdown as Ford County again confronts its tortured history. Filled with the intrigue, suspense and plot twists that are the hallmarks of the world's favourite storyteller, SYCAMORE ROW is the thrilling story of the elusive search for justice in a small American town.

Available from Amazon

Thursday, November 14, 2013

3 Reasons to be worried about Independent Medical Panels

Brought to you by our friends at Spencers Solicitors

The proposal to introduce independent medical panels to examine people suffering from whiplash may sound like a good idea.  But there are reasons for concern about the wider impact of the government’s plan.

In fact I think there are three reasons.

     1. Another excuse for insurers to under settle legitimate injury claims
When someone is injured in a road traffic accident, it is common for the insurer of the driver at fault to contact the injured person and offer them an early settlement.  Over the phone this is ‘sold’ as a more convenient solution than having to push their compensation claim through the court system.

The conversation usually takes place before the injured person has had a chance to see a lawyer or medical professional.

The insurer’s agenda here is clear; by convincing an injured person to accept their pre-medical offer, they avoid a legal battle and paying what would likely be a much more significant compensation amount.

Now while the government intends to wipe out fraudulent whiplash claims by making independent medical examinations compulsory - the proposal’s implementation would create another opportunity for insurance companies to leverage more early settlements and dodge their obligation to compensate innocent drivers for their injuries.

Just as the insurer currently pitches an early settlement as an ‘easier option than going through courts’, they will also be able to pitch it as an ‘easier option than going through a compulsory medical examination’.

John Spencer’s recent blog refers to the same and offers alternative suggestions to make it better rather than just pick holes as a lot of reports are currently doing. 

So only when the practice of contacting accident victims prior to legal advice or medical consultation is stopped, will I consider the government’s proposal as holistically positive.
Until then I’m seeing it as a double-edged sword.

      2. Who watches the watchmen?
The proposed medical panels will be ‘independent’ and necessarily so.
But who will manage the panels? Who will fund them? And who will appoint the professionals to be on them?

The points were raised by John Spencer here. Not only do his questions need clarification but they also need the right answers.

If there is any indication of a body like the Association of British Insurers being involved in the selection process, then there is a danger that the panels will be pulled away from any true ‘independence’.

     3.     Injured party’s freedom of choice is removed
The proposal may carry with them a host of benefits to the justice system; however innocent claimants ought to have a right to choose their appropriate medical expert (and the opposing side the right to object).

Simply being assigned to a panel where you would have no say in who you are being examined by is an almost dictatorial way of doing things.

As an alternative, I side with the idea of introducing a pool of accredited medical experts, from which each claimant can choose to be examined by. The principle behind the proposal would remain the same and the accident victim would retain their freedom of choice.

What do you think?
Are there any other solutions, or are whiplash panels the way to go?  Put your thoughts down in the comments below and have your say.

About the Author
Susan Randall is a Chartered Legal Executive and motor accident litigator at Spencers Solicitors.  Susan handles a variety of medium to high value claimant personal injury cases arising from road traffic accidents, including those involving pedestrians, motorcycles and low velocity impact.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Recommendation: Last Friends by Jane Gardam

Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat told with bristling tenderness and black humour the stories of that Titan of the Hong Kong law courts, Old Filth QC, and his clever, misunderstood wife Betty. Last Friends, the final volume of this trilogy, picks up with Terence Veneering, Filth's great rival in work and - though it was never spoken of - in love.
Veneering's were not the usual beginnings of an establishment silk: the son of a Russian acrobat marooned in northeast England and a devoted local girl, he escapes the war to emerge in the Far East as a man of panache, success and fame. But, always, at the stuffy English Bar he is treated with suspicion: where did this blond, louche, brilliant Slav come from?
Veneering, Filth and their friends tell a tale of love, friendship, grace, the bittersweet experiences of a now-forgotten Empire and the disappointments and consolations of age.

Available from Amazon

Health and safety doesn't stop the fireworks this year in Ilfracombe!

Delighted to read in the North Devon Journal that health and safety didn't stop the fireworks this year in Ilfracombe. This is in contrast to this story from the Daily Mail back in 2009 in which it was reported that a bonfire had to appear on a big screen! You can read more about Ilfracombe on our new website

Braunton's Andrew Cotton hits the big time!

Really great to see that Andrew Cotton has hit the big time with an incredible wave out in Portugal. You can see the wave as well as a link to his interview on Newsnight at About Braunton.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Recommendation: The English Legal System: 2013-2014 by Gary Slapper and David Kelly

Slapper and Kelly’s The English Legal System explains and critically assesses how our law is made and applied. Annually updated, this authoritative textbook clearly describes the legal rules of England and Wales and their collective influence as a sociocultural institution.
This latest edition of The English Legal System presents and analyses changes made to the legal system and digests recent legislation and case law. The Protection of Freedom Act 2012, the Defamation Bill, the Justice and Security Bill 2012, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill 2012, and the July 2012 vote on Parliamentary reform are all incorporated into the text, and this edition also considers changes to the Crown Prosecution Service, Mediation and Judicial Diversity. The cases Alvi v Secretary of State for the Home Department (judicial review), AXA General Insurance Limited v The Lord Advocate (Scotland) (devolution), R v J, S, M and R v KS (jury tampering), and Rolf v De Guerin (mediation) are all digested in the text.
The text also includes the latest government papers on antisocial behaviour, and criminal justice reform, the Practice Direction on citing authorities in court, and the Leveson Inquiry.
Key learning features include:
    • a clear and logical structure with short, manageable, well-structured individual chapters;
    • useful chapter summaries which act as a good check point for students;
    • ‘food for thought’ sections help to deepen understanding of key issues in each chapter;
    • sources for further reading and suggested websites at the end of each chapter to point students towards further learning pathways;
    • an online skills network including how-to-do practical examples, tips, advice and interactive examples of English law in action.
Relied upon by generations of students, Slapper and Kelly’s The English Legal System is a permanent fixture in this ever evolving subject.

Available from Amazon