Law Society to launch legal challenge over cuts to criminal

The Law Society has announced plans to challenge the government on cuts to legal aid for criminal defence cases in England and Wales.

The move follows repeated concerns about the state of the legal aid market and its ability to withstand further reductions.

The decision to take its case to the High Court was made after the Law Society voiced its fears that access to justice was under even greater threat from Ministry of Justice (MoJ) plans to reduce payments for crown court cases.

The MoJ proposal intends to slash fees for paper heavy crown court cases, which it claims lead to an increase in the average cost per case. The counter argument, however, is that fees for less complex crown court cases are so low that legal firms are working at a loss and that lawyers are often subsidising such cases from the proceeds of larger cases in order to represent vulnerable people.

Criminal defence fees were reduced by 8.5% in March 2014 and the Law Society believes that the impact of this has not yet been determined. Further savings are also set to be made from the courts and tribunals reform programme alongside other initiatives, which the Law Society also believes should be taken into account before a decision is made with regard to reducing fees further.


Why making your will is so important

Research shows that six in 10 adults don’t have a will. Many people believe that it doesn’t really matter because when they die, their family and friends will decide who benefits from their estate. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Dying without a will means you ‘die intestate’ so it makes no difference what promises you’ve made or who you want to receive your assets, it’s the law which decides who benefits, not you.

All too often people put off making a will because they believe they don’t have enough money or that death is a long way off. But if you died tomorrow, who would have your home, your car, your jewellery, even your pet, for example? The point is, you don’t need vast sums of money or a portfolio of properties; as long as you’re over 18, you’re never too young, too poor or too busy to make your will.

The Law Commission is currently reviewing the will making process to ascertain if it can be made friendlier and more relevant for a modern 21st century society, but that shouldn’t put you off making your will now. We’ve listed some reasons why it’s so important:

  • It doesn’t matter who you’ve promised what, if you have no will it’s the law which decides who benefits from your legacy
  • We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; money changes people. It’s an ugly truth, but making a will helps prevent family disputes and fall outs after you’ve gone
  • Dying without a will can leave your estate liable for inheritance tax
  • Beware the DIY will. They don’t take into account the complexities of the law and could come back to bite somewhere that hurts. Like your loved ones bank balance because they’ll have to pay to rectify any mistakes
  • Refresh it. Every few years take a look at your will to make sure it’s still current. Have you married or remarried? Had children or got divorced? If so, you’ll need to update it
  • If you’ve remarried and you have children from a previous relationship, unless you stipulate it in your will, your estate will go to your spouse, which could mean that your children are bypassed when you die
  • If you’ve split from your partner and have entered into a new relationship with someone else, it doesn’t matter if you live together; if you’re not married, or in a civil partnership, you’re new partner isn’t legally entitled to anything
  • Worse still, if you’ve split from your ex acrimoniously, but haven’t divorced yet, it’s irrelevant if you can’t stand the sight of each other, they’re still in line to inherit everything if you haven’t changed your will because technically you’re still married. Think on
  • It’s not as expensive as you might think, especially if you’re planning to draft a joint will (also known as a mirror will) as they’re often discounted
  • Make sure you use a legal professional, they’re regulated and insured
  • If you like, a solicitor can store the original version of your will and you can keep a copy of it. Just make sure you tell your family where it is
  • After all that, please, please, please make sure you sign it. Without your signature on the dotted line, your will isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on


Cohabitation Awareness Week – Know Your Rights

Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems, is holding its annual awareness week between 27th November and 1st December.

This year, the focus is on issues surrounding cohabitation and how many unmarried couples living together are unaware of their lack of rights should they separate.

When couples move in together, the last thing on their minds is the consequences of what happens if their relationship breaks down. If it does, all too often they can find themselves arguing over whom gets what when splitting the equity in their home.

Cohabitees don’t have the same rights as people who are married. This is particularly relevant if you’re living together and you’ve invested more money than your partner when purchasing the property as the starting point for dividing up the asset is 50/50.

In a situation where the house is in joint names, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve paid more into it or not; if there’s no cohabitation agreement in place, or proof of an arrangement regarding the financial split, the equity in the home will be divided equally.

If the property you live in is owned solely by your partner, but you contribute to the mortgage payments, bills or home improvements, you may want to claim some of the equity in the house. Although it’s possible, it’s a complex area of the law, so we’d strongly recommend you seek legal advice on your rights.

If you already own a house and your partner moves in with you, or is planning to move in, we’d also recommend you enter into a cohabitation agreement to ensure that your partner doesn’t assert in interest in your property should your relationship break down.

Cohabitation agreements set out how the finances are to be divided up on separation and the intention of you both with regard to the equity in the house. They identify any assets you bring to the relationship – money, property, possessions and the ownership of the same.

If you’d like some guidance on how cohabitation agreements work and what you can expect from them, our solicitors can talk you through it.

Concerns over the number of people representing themselves in court

The latest figures released by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has raised fresh concerns over the number of family cases being brought to court without legal representation.

Stats show that 36% of the 13,029 applications made between April and June this year weren’t legally represented on either side. This is up 2% on the previous quarter.

The increase has led to calls from the legal sector to review the way the family justice system is funded. The view is that even a small amount of government financed advice could help signpost applicants to alternative forms of resolution and information to help them settle cases without having the worry, and inexperience, of representing themselves in court. The concern has been echoed by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd who described it as ‘deeply worrying’.

Suggested solutions include a return to legal aid or adoption of the Californian practise of providing a court bared solicitor who can advise whilst at court. Legal aid for children matters at least is being championed by the Bach Commission, which is looking into access to justice. The government has also been urged to broaden the remit of legal aid for other specific family cases with respect to court representation.