Your round-up of the stories that you should discuss at interview this week:
- Family/Homelessness Law
Reported by Anna Flaherty
Face of homelessness changing with hundreds of thousands of families in temporary accommodation
A new report, called “Still no place like home?”, has shown that a third of complaints received about homelessness services in England came from outside of London. The report also established that a great proportion of complaints were as a result of unaffordable rent prices. This was the case for 70% of the complaints received by the Ombudsman services. The Ministry of Justice has also released figures which show that there were almost 79,000 families staying in temporary accommodation in the UK in the last three months of 2017.
Local councils have received most of the blame in relation to temporary accommodation, with their solution being to provide homeless families with Bed & Breakfast accommodation. The Ombudsman pointed out that this has been a persisting problem since 2013, with no improvements being made. As a result, families (even those that are able to give the council significant notice that they may be at risk of becoming homeless) are put in accommodation which disrupts their family life and could particularly hinder the welfare of any children. For instance, much of this type of accommodation has a damp or infestation problem, often affecting residents’ physical and mental health.
These actions convey the complete lack of supportive and/or preventative measures that councils should have in place to aid struggling families. The attitude that the government and the general public has towards poor people and the homeless (see more here) has meant that the issue has been overlooked. The fact that there is a “changing face of homelessness”, in the sense that entire families are left homeless, shows how prevalent the class divide has become. It is necessary to overcome the neo-liberal ideology, that homeless peoples’ vulnerability is their own responsibility, if we are to see significant improvement in the living conditions of these families.
Reported by Anna-Mei Harvey
City firm Macfarlanes deepens its relationship with AI firm Kira systems
Kira provides a contracts analysis and can aid in the process of due diligence, particularly with Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A). The artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology provides analysis and review on a huge scale, reducing the time spent by junior lawyers on such tasks. This represents a positive step on the road to cost reduction as firms face increasing pressure from clients to minimise legal costs whilst still retaining the high quality of work provided. The time freed up by using such technology allows lawyers to focus on the more intricate elements of documents.
Christopher Tart-Roberts, head of knowledge, innovation and legal technology at Macfarlanes, advised that the use of A.I. “is increasingly expected by clients”. He also recognises that effective use of A.I. technology by a firm proves to prospective clients that they are searching for innovative ways to improve client experience.
Kira’s whitepaper describes it as a system that is pre-programmed and “taught”. It does however retain flexibility by allowing law firms to build on and develop its capabilities by “teaching” it what you want it to identify. Tart-Roberts identified this as being “quite a significant factor” when choosing to use Kira’s A.I. system as opposed to others.
As firms in the legal sector face constant pressure relating to costs, efficiency and client retention, the major players are towing the line and increasingly using technology to improve processes. However, the attitude remains that technology can be seen as a threat to livelihood, rather than as an enabler.
- Government Legal Services
Reported by Sara Saquib
Legal Aid in the UK being ‘brought to its knees’
The latest government cuts to legal aid has meant that barristers are threatening to walkout in an effort to make the government realise more money is needed to keep the system afloat.
Barrister Jerry Hayes has stated that the only way to bring about change is by encouraging mass walkouts. This comes with news that the Ministry of Justice’s budget has faced the largest cuts since 2010. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has stated that it is expecting a large amount of support for direct action, stating that it will update members of the association on Thursday after a survey has gone around asking whether the members are keen to take action or not.
It is unclear specifically how legal professionals will take action against these cuts, but it has been said that this could include refusing to cover hearings for other barristers in addition to refusing to accept new work.
The state of legal aid, and payment of the professionals who are holding it up, has been deteriorating for a long time now. This means that legal professionals are now more united than ever. Legal aid solicitors are in the process of determining whether they should also protest against these cuts, with their own fees having been cut last October.
Hopefully with the unity amongst legal professionals, government officials should realise that unless more money is put into the system then it will soon collapse.
- Property Law
Reported by Jutha Cheewat
Update on Leaseholders’ liability for dangerous cladding
Following from the Grenfell incident, one of the issues raised was whether liability should be imposed upon leaseholders to pay the cost of removal and replacement of cladding.
The issue was recently brought to a first-tier tribunal in the case of Firstport Property Services Ltd v Various Leaseholders of Citiscape. After a long and difficult hearing, the tribunal was asked to decide whether the waking watch charges and the estimated advance charge for cladding were payable and reasonable.
The tribunal found that the waking watch was payable as it fell under the requirements and directions of any competent authority. These costs also fell under the maintenance and proper and convenient management and running of the development, and providing and paying such persons as may be necessary for connection with the upkeep of the property. In this case, the London Fire Brigade were found to be responsible.
In regard to cladding removal, the tribunal followed the decision in Credit Suisse v Beegas. Lindsay J found that “firstly renewing or otherwise treating as necessary” went beyond simple repair. However, “rectifying or making good any inherent structural defects” encompassed removal of the cladding. Thus, the managing agent was required to pay for the cost and that such cost was recoverable under the leases.
The fact that this is a non-binding decision, the judge made it clear that he was neither suggesting that such a claim was possible in law nor that it could succeed. Having said that, this case still attracted many comments and criticisms.
Read more here.