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Archive for October, 2009

Move to withhold evidence in torture collusion claim

Guardian: Any evidence of MI5 and MI6 involvement in the rendition and torture of Britons now seeking damages must be heard behind closed doors, the government told the high court today.

In a move with profound implications for how the security and intelligence agencies can be held to account, ministers want the evidence to be withheld from the victims of illegal activities and their lawyers.

It is the first time the government has asked the courts to rule that evidence should be kept secret in a civil case involving claims for damages. “I entirely accept [it] is a departure” from the normal course of such litigation, Jonathan Crow QC, for the agencies, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the attorney general, told Mr Justice Silber.

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‘Death tourism’ leads Swiss to consider ban on assisted suicide

Guardian: The Swiss government is considering restricting or even banning organised assisted suicide in an attempt to reduce so-called “death tourism”.

Swiss authorities want to ensure euthanasia is a last resort for the terminally ill, amid fears their current laws on assisted suicide could be open to abuse. A study last year suggested more and more people seeking help to die in Switzerland did not have a terminal illness.

“We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” the Swiss justice minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, told reporters in Berne, adding that more foreigners were travelling to Switzerland to die.

About 100 Britons are believed to have ended their lives at the Swiss clinic of the right-to-die organisation Dignitas, including the conductor Edward Downes and his wife, Joan, and Daniel James, a 23-year-old who was paralysed after a rugby accident.

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William Garrow: he paved the way for the modern adversarial system

Times: Right — hands up all those who have heard of William Garrow. H’mm, thought so — me neither.

That will all change for those of you who have not read John Hostettler’s Fighting for Justice: The History and Origins of Adversary Trial (2006, Waterside Press) when BBC One, this Sunday at 9pm, screens the first of a four-part series called Garrow’s Law and inspired by his life.

William Garrow was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1783 and spent the next ten years at the Old Bailey acting for the defence, championing the underdog and pioneering the rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses that paved the way for our modern adversarial system that characterises common-law criminal procedure as practised in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, including the United States.

It was not until 1837 that counsel for the defence were able to argue fact, as opposed to law, and to address the jury.

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Bankers’ bonanza bonuses: what can be done about them?

Times: Reining in bankers’ bonuses has become like a Wild West rodeo in which every political cowboy in town strives to bring to heel a powerful bull. Its advocates argue that it should be allowed to run free if it is to generate healthy profits for banks and tax receipts for governments in the future.

Nonetheless, George Osborne’s attempt on Monday to capture headlines by suggesting that retail bankers should be tethered to bonuses worth no more than £2k in cash with the rest in shares underlines that it is open season on bonuses from all parts of the political spectrum. “Where banks do want to pay bonuses this year to those senior staff who have earned them,” the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer said, “those bonuses should take the form of new equity capital — shares in the business.”

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Slaughter may lose its legal stranglehold on banking

Times: Slaughter and May could lose its crown as the Government’s preferred legal adviser on the banking crisis. In the biggest legal shake-up since the bank bailouts started two years ago, the Treasury is asking other firms to tender for the business.

The City law firm has been deeply involved in the bailouts since Northern Rock collapsed in 2007. It has received almost £25 million for its advice.

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Watchdog proposes shake-up of inheritance law for unmarried couples

Times: Unmarried couples would automatically inherit some of their partner’s estate on his or her death under radical reforms proposed today.

The plans from the Law Commission, the Government’s law reform watchdog, would extend rights enjoyed by married couples to about two million cohabitants.

At present where couples live together and one of them dies without a will, the survivor has no automatic right to inherit their partner’s home or belongings.

Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner leading the project, said: “These reforms would bring the law into line with public expectation and attitudes, as well as with the law in other Commonwealth countries. People still believe the myth that they have rights as ‘common law wives’ if they live together.”

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Has the new Companies Act helped small business?

Times: Will company directors be more accountable to their shareholders and the wider community now that the landmark Companies Act 2006 is now fully in force?

Businesses, lawyers and legislators are already taking stock of the commercial landscape to detect whether the new law has met its creators’ lofty aims.

The Government’s rationale for replacing the Companies Act 1985 was to create a modern and simple legal framework that neither acts as an obstacle to the way companies operate nor stifles entrepreneurship. In particular, the focus was on a “think small first” approach, deregulation and promoting a long-term investment culture.

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