Monday, 21 March 2011

Hart Brown named as one of the first firms in the UK to be accredited under the new Conveyancing Quality Scheme

Hart Brown named as one of the first firms in the UK to be accredited under the new Conveyancing Quality Scheme

Just 20 firms have been recognised for meeting the Law Society's comprehensive quality standards for residential conveyancing practices.

Hart Brown, a leading law firm with offices throughout Surrey and in London, today announced that, it is one of the first law firms to be accredited under the new Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS). Launched by the Law Society, the CQS provides a recognised quality standard for residential conveyancing practices, and will therefore enable Hart Brown to enjoy even greater credibility with its key stakeholders, including regulators, lenders, insurers and its clients. Just 20 law firms have achieved this to date.

In addition to assessing the integrity of the Hart Brown's Senior Responsible Officer and other key conveyancing staff, the CQS also examined the firm's adherence to good practice management standards generally, and to prudent and efficient conveyancing procedures. The scheme, which is supported by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, has been open for applications since December 2010.

"The aim of the CQS scheme is not only to improve the quality of conveyancing, but also to encourage the public to work with firms that have proven their ability to meet these stringent standards consistently," says David Knapp, Partner and Head of Residential Property, Hart Brown. "To be in the first batch of those accredited is a testimony to our excellent quality procedures, the staff involved in the conveyancing process, and also to our accounts team, who also needed to be carefully vetted in order for us to demonstrate compliance with CQS standards."

According to the Law Society, the aim of the scheme is not only to reinforce consistency of standards throughout the conveyancing process, but also to reduce the risk of fraud and give consumers peace of mind when it comes to home buying. Practices applying to join the scheme must undergo a robust assessment and will be required to renew their membership of the scheme each year.

In addition to improving the quality of UK conveyancing, the CQS scheme will help to create a trusted community better equipped to deter fraud. As such, although CQS membership will not guarantee acceptance onto lenders' panels, the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has indicated that membership is likely to become a pre-requisite for firms wishing to join/remain on their panels in the future.

"At Hart Brown we understand that whether you are buying or selling a property, you'll want to have the process explained to you in simple and easy to understand language, be kept informed throughout the process, and have the process proceed as smoothly as possible," David Knapp continues. "Schemes like the CQS help us to highlight our expertise in all of these important areas, and to ensure that one of the most expensive purchases or sales you are likely to make is handled properly, and with clear and consistent communication throughout the entire process."

Find out more about Hart Brown's Residential Property Conveyancing department

David Knapp, Partner, Residential property conveyancing, Hart Brown

Court of Appeal decides that a mother cannot keep mum about the birth of her baby

A mother who sought to keep the birth of her baby boy a secret from her husband has been told by judges that the court will not back her “great lie”, according to an article in the Telegraph.

The husband and wife, who originate from Afganistan, are still married and the court observed that a “full family life exists”. The wife gave birth to the baby boy last year without her husband knowing about the birth or her pregnancy, as she was concerned about how he might react to the news that he was a father. Her plan was to have the child adopted before her husband had the chance to find out.

According to the mother, the father is “unpredictable and volatile”. He is apparently extremely traumatised by what he witnessed in war torn Afganistan. In particular, the murder of his sister by the Taliban. The mother told the court that her husband has “psychotic symptoms” and that she was concerned that if he found out he was a father, this would have an adverse effect on his mental health.

When looking at issues involving children, the court considers the welfare of the child to be of utmost importance. Any decision made must be in the child’s best interests. There are also human right issues involved in this case. In previous cases, the court has made it clear that a child has the right to know who its parents are. Likewise, a father has a right to know that he is in fact a father.

In the absence of medical evidence to support her case, the mother’s concerns were “pure supposition” and her appeal was dismissed. The court found that the father should be fully informed of his son’s birth.

Do you think there are any circumstances which may justify a parent not being informed about the existence of their child?

read more here

Gemma Kemp, Legal Executive, Family Law

Friday, 18 March 2011

Inheritance: mine or ours?

According to recent research, a third of parents are concerned about leaving money and assets to their married children in their wills in case they get divorced. The assumption seemingly being that when a couple divorces they each walk away with half of the assets. Whilst this may be the outcome in some cases, it is by no means a preordained or guaranteed outcome.

When a marriage or registered civil partnership breaks down, the lawyers and the courts have to look at the individual circumstances of that particular case. When dealing with financial matters, the court’s objective is to achieve an outcome which is fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.

In order to consider whether a settlement is fair and reasonable, different factors are considered, such as: each person’s income and capital resources both now and in the foreseeable future; their respective ages; the duration of the marriage; their income and capital needs; their standard of living during the marriage; any disability either party may have; and contributions each party has made to the marriage.

An additional factor to be considered is whether an equal division of all the assets (including inheritances) would be fair. This is more likely to be the case in respect of a long marriage, but perhaps not for a short one.

An inheritance can form part of the assets to be taken into account, but this depends on what other assets are available and when the inheritance was received. If it was received at beginning of a long marriage, the ‘contribution’ may be watered down over the passage of time. If it is a recent inheritance, there may be more scope to argue that the person who received it should keep it. That said, an inheritance may not be excluded from the joint ‘matrimonial pot’ if there are very few other assets, to the extent that one or both parties’ needs cannot be met without the inheritance monies being added to the matrimonial pot.

To paint a picture, Mr and Mrs Wills are married with two children. Mrs Wills receives a significant inheritance which is used to purchase the family home. Unfortunately the marriage breaks down and Mrs Wills moves out and purchases a new property. Mr Wills remains living in the first home with the children. If there were no other assets, it would be unfair and unreasonable for Mrs Wills to receive her whole inheritance back as it would potentially render the children and Mr Wills homeless. This is merely an illustrative example, and most cases are not so clear cut. Full legal advice should be taken in respect of such matters.

Therefore, the answer to the question “is my inheritance mine or ours” depends on all the facts of the case.

Gemma Kemp, Legal Executive, Family Law, Woking

Our surveillance society

Direct Line Insurance lost their case against Mark Noble this week in the High Court. In 2008 the insurers had to pay Mr Noble £3.3 million following a motor cycle accident which had taken place in 2003. After the case was settled a neighbour contacted the Insurance Fraud Bureau to say that Mr Noble was not disabled.

Direct Line then decided to have Mr Noble secretly filmed. In 2009 Direct Line obtained an order freezing Mr Noble’s assets and later the case was re-opened to see if Mr Noble had been guilty of fraud and whether the award of damages should be set aside. Therefore there was much at stake both for Direct Line and for Mr Noble during the hearing which took some 8 days. Judgment was given this week in favour of Mr Noble who will keep his damages.

Widespread criticism of Direct Line has followed the news report on this case.

How far should insurers go to detect fraud?

In Mr Noble’s case it appears that the insurers went after an innocent man. Having acted for both defendants and claimants I know that there are times that claimants do not tell the truth. Insurers are on occasion justified in secretly filming a claimant when fraud is suspected. There have been cases when secret surveillance has provided clear proof of fraud and/or exaggeration. In Mr Noble’s case the insurers appear to have gone after the wrong man and have failed in a somewhat spectacular way. I anticipate that Mr Noble’s relations with his neighbour who contacted the Insurance Fraud Bureau might be a little frosty in the near future too!

Marek Bednarczyk, Partner, Civil Litigation

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Cosmetic Surgery - how safe is it?

The BBC news reported that an inquest into the death of footballer’s wife, Denise Hendry, will be held this year. Mrs Hendry suffered serious complications following a liposuction procedure which was carried out at a private hospital. It is reported that her bowel was punctured in several places. She had to suffer a number of operations to repair the damage and contracted an infection.

There are many excellent and highly trained plastic surgeons within the NHS some of whom also work in the private sector. The sad story, involving Mrs Hendry, shows that the standard of some surgeons and some clinics falls short of what is acceptable.

A lot of cosmetic procedures are not available under the NHS and patients have no alternative but to seek treatment from within the private sector. Patients place their trust in these clinics and the cosmetic surgeons, sometimes to their cost.

The National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death carried out a survey which was published in 2010. A significant percentage of cosmetic surgery providers did not respond or refused to take part in the study. The results of this study give rise for concern:
• Few providers carried out routine preoperative psychological assessment.
• Some of the operating theatres were not properly equipped.
• Some providers offered a variety of procedures some of which were only performed infrequently.
• Not all providers monitored patient outcomes.
• Many patients were not given time to reflect on the advice given at the initial consultation before proceeding with the procedure.
• Some hospitals did not have an emergency readmission procedure.

Clearly better regulation and monitoring within the private sector is required.

Dr Caroline Kerr, Solicitor, Clinical Negligence

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Royal Wedding bank holiday – to pay or not to pay

Are employees entitled to be paid for the for the extra bank holiday due to the Royal wedding on Friday 29th April 2011? Employers will have to check the wording of their employment contracts and associated policies. The day does not actually increase any entitlement to statutory holiday under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

A contract which entitles employees to, for example, 20 days annual leave in addition to all statutory, bank and public holidays, would entitle employees to an extra day’s paid holiday. However if the contract entitles employees to 28 day annual leave including all statutory, bank and public holidays, then employees would not be entitled to the extra day’s paid holiday.

There will also be an additional bank holiday on 5 June 2012 to mark the Queen’s diamond jubilee and her 60 years on the throne. The traditional late May bank holiday will also be postponed until 4 June 2012 to give the country a 4 day weekend break.

Ursula Kelland, Solicitor, Employment

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Compensation culture - a harmless merry-go-round or something more sinister?

Some mornings it seems that representatives of the insurance industry are queuing up to appear on the radio complaining about the so called ‘compensation culture’. Many people are surprised to learn however that they are actively participating in the increase in the number of claims about which they so bitterly claim.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee has recently shone some light on the murky world of these referral payments. Essentially insurance companies put people who make a claim on their insurance in touch with panel firms of solicitors who pay the insurance companies referral fees reportedly averaging between £200 and £1,000 per case. The law firms then make claims on behalf of these clients which are often dealt with by other insurers who then complain about the rise in claims but in particular that element of the cost of those claims which represents legal costs. Common sense suggests that the presence of these referral payments in what the Committee referred to as ‘a merry-go-round’ must increase the cost of the overall process somewhere. Surely a simple solution for these insurance companies who complain so bitterly about this would simply be to stop paying these referral fees such that costs would be reduced. Unfortunately the insurance industry makes a lot of money from these referral payments. In one sense of course the insurance companies do not necessarily lose out from a rise in premiums. A relatively harmless merry-go-round or something more sinister – what do you think?

Paul Grimwood, Partner, Civil Litigation