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Divorce – Being Less than Frank About Your Wealth Is Anything but Clever

Legal News - Fri, 2020-01-24 05:00

Some divorcees sadly think it is clever to be less than forthcoming about the value of their assets, thus rendering a fair division much more difficult. In a vanishingly rare case, big money divorce proceedings had to be reopened not just once, but twice, due to a multi-millionaire husband’s dishonesty.

Following the end of their 14-year marriage, the former couple agreed to a consent order whereby the wife received the former matrimonial home and a lump sum of £4 million. It later emerged, however, that the husband had failed to disclose the existence of two valuable trusts of which he was the principal beneficiary.

The consent order was in those circumstances set aside and, following a rehearing, a judge awarded the wife a further £6.42 million. However, that was not the end of the matter and, in what was probably a unique application, the wife sought to reopen the financial aspects of the divorce for a second time.

In upholding her application, the High Court found that the husband had failed to disclose information relevant to the valuation of his majority shareholding in two companies. The shares had been professionally valued during the rehearing at about £16 million, but a subsequent deal entered into by the husband revealed that a buyer was willing to pay more than £80 million for them.

The Court found that the astute businessman was well aware of his duty to make full and frank disclosure. In failing to reveal at the rehearing the extent of his continuing contact with the potential buyer of his shares, he had signally failed in that duty. His deliberate decision to withhold information and documents which he knew should have been disclosed was dishonest and amounted to fraud.

In allowing the wife’s application and directing a second rehearing in respect of her financial remedies, the Court noted that, due to the husband’s dishonesty, finality had yet to be achieved almost a decade after the marriage ended. The former couple had to date run up about £1.3 million in legal costs between them. The outcome was enormously regrettable from the wife’s point of view and the Court urged the former couple to seek a negotiated settlement rather than continuing to engage in a vortex of profligate spending and mutual destruction.

Breach of Contract – Judge Orders Reinstatement of Golf Club Member

Legal News - Thu, 2020-01-23 05:00

Club members who abide by the rules and pay their subscriptions have contractual rights and the courts are more than capable of enforcing them. In a striking case on point, a judge came to the aid of a man whose cherished membership of a prestigious golf club was cancelled irrationally and in bad faith.

The Australian citizen had paid a substantial fee to join the club but, as an overseas member, paid greatly reduced annual subscriptions on the basis that he was only permitted to play 30 rounds of golf at the club annually. His membership was terminated by the club’s governing committee on the basis that he was not permanently resident outside the UK.

After the man launched proceedings, the judge found that that conclusion was simply wrong. The evidence established that his real home was in Sydney and that he had never settled permanently in the UK. He was thus entitled to overseas membership under the club’s rules.

Noting that the man had been given no notice of the crucial committee meeting, the judge found that he had deserved better. It was very difficult not to accept that personal dislike, and a perception that he was not the type of person that the club wished to have as a member, had played a part in the committee’s fundamentally flawed decision. Having been taken in bad faith, for an improper purpose, the decision was one that no rational decision-maker could have reached.

There was no dispute that the man’s membership of the club gave rise to a binding contractual relationship and, notwithstanding the breakdown in trust and confidence between him and certain other members, the judge issued an injunction requiring his reinstatement. He was also awarded £250 in damages to reflect the embarrassment he suffered.

Luxury Hotel Faces Insolvency After Residential Planning Consent Refused

Legal News - Thu, 2020-01-23 05:00

Developing land for housing can provide the knock-on benefits of saving troubled businesses, thus preserving jobs and local economic health. However, as a High Court ruling showed, such advantages do not always outweigh planning objections.

The case concerned a luxury hotel in severe financial difficulties. Its owner argued that, unless it were permitted to build up to 200 homes in its grounds, the business – which employed about 200 people and was said to be worth over £4 million to the local economy annually – would face insolvency within five years.

The local authority, however, refused planning permission for the proposed scheme, in part because of concerns that it would lead to an increase in the number of recreational visitors to a protected area of coastal marshland which was about 2.4 kilometres from the site and which was home to a rich array of birdlife.

The site also adjoined a conservation area which included a stately home and its listed park and garden. A planning inspector, who upheld the council’s decision following a public inquiry, said that the development would permanently change the setting of those heritage assets and significantly harm the quality of the landscape and its distinctive local character.

In ruling on the owner’s appeal against the inspector’s decision, the Court found that she had in one respect misinterpreted advice given by Natural England, who had no objection to the proposals after the owner agreed make a financial contribution to the cost of visitor management measures and to provide alternative natural green space. She had also to some extent erred when assessing the weight to be given to the development's contribution to affordable housing in the area.

In exercising its discretion to dismiss the owner’s challenge, however, the Court described those errors as minor. Given the weight of planning objections to the proposals, the errors had not affected the inspector’s ultimate decision and the refusal of planning permission was inevitable.

Investigating Sexual Harassment Claims – Employment Tribunal Guidance

Legal News - Tue, 2020-01-21 05:00

Workplace disciplinary inquiries must be thorough, fair – and prompt. The point was made by an Employment Tribunal (ET) in the case of an underground railway worker who was kept in a state of limbo for almost 16 months whilst sexual harassment allegations against him were investigated.

One of the man’s female colleagues had accused him of plaguing her with numerous highly inappropriate sexualised comments. He denied any wrongdoing and it was a case of his word against hers. Following the long investigation, during which he was suspended from work, the woman’s account was preferred. After his internal appeal was rejected, he was dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.

In upholding his unfair dismissal complaint, the ET found that the investigation was fundamentally flawed in that relevant managers had throughout shown a significant tendency to accept the veracity of the woman’s account without challenge. Potential inconsistencies in her version of events, and possible motives she might have had for making false allegations, had not been adequately explored.

The ET noted that it was wholly unsatisfactory that so many months had passed between the woman making her complaint and the man’s dismissal. Although he was paid in full throughout the investigation, there was a real risk of evidence going stale and he had been kept in a considerable state of limbo for longer than necessary. Although the delay was not in itself enough to render the dismissal unfair, it contributed to the unreasonableness of the procedure followed.

Whilst rejecting the employer’s plea that the man had, by his conduct, contributed to his dismissal, the ET found that, had a fair procedure been adopted, there was a 75 per cent chance that he would have been dismissed in any event. His compensatory award will be reduced accordingly.

The man received a basic award of £14,478 to reflect his more than 20 years of service to his employer. In the absence of agreement, the amount of his compensatory award, and any claim he might make for reinstatement in his former job, would be assessed at a further hearing.

Woman Run Down By Fairground Lorry Wins Compensation Fight

Legal News - Mon, 2020-01-20 05:00

Event organisers and health and safety professionals should take careful note of a High Court case in which a charity was found partially to blame for an accident in which a woman was run down by a lorry during preparations for a bonfire night fair.

The middle-aged woman was wheeling her pushbike across common land which was normally closed to all but local authority maintenance traffic when the lorry, which was loaded with dodgems, ran over her. She was in an induced coma for 17 days and her right leg had to be amputated.

After proceedings were launched on her behalf, the High Court found that the charity which organised the event was negligent in failing to ensure that public access to the common was restricted by barriers or stewards whilst fairground vehicles were manoeuvring into position.

There had been no assessment of the specific risks involved and confusion over who was responsible for marshalling vehicle movements on the common had led to an obvious lack of safety. Had pedestrians and vehicles been properly separated, the accident would probably never have happened.

The woman’s legal team conceded that she had herself been careless and bore 12.5 per cent of the responsibility for her own misfortune. The Court found that the lorry driver, whose negligence was the immediate cause of the accident, bore 65 per cent of the remaining liability, and the charity 35 per cent. The ruling means that the woman is entitled to recover 87.5 per cent of the full value of her very substantial damages claim.

Inheritance Tax on Agricultural Land ­Depends on Open Market Value

Legal News - Fri, 2020-01-17 05:00

Agricultural land, like any other asset, is ultimately worth what someone is willing to pay for it and the only sure means of assessing its value is to expose it to the open market. A tribunal made that point in ruling on an Inheritance Tax (IHT) dispute.

Four years after a sheep farmer’s death, the personal representatives of his estate sold about eight acres of his grazing land to a company owned by his daughter and son-in-law. The land was not put to market before the price was agreed at £500,000. HM Revenue and Customs took the view that this was not the best price that could reasonably have been obtained and valued it at £800,000 for IHT purposes.

In ruling on the estate’s challenge to that decision, the Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal (UT) noted that the land had development potential. It had in the past been the subject of a series of option agreements with developers, although none of them had reached fruition. The local authority had at one point resolved to grant consent for 100 new homes on the site, but that planning application was subsequently withdrawn due to the non-completion of an agreement under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

The UT noted that, by Section 190(1) of the Inheritance Tax Act 1984, the sale price of land sold by a deceased’s estate is taken to be the price for which the land is actually sold or, if greater, the best price that could reasonably have been obtained for it. On the basis of prices achieved in respect of comparable sites in the area, the UT found that a price of £645,000 would have been achieved had the land been placed on the open market. The estate’s appeal was upheld to that extent and that figure will be used to assess its IHT liability in respect of the site.

Wrongly Left Out of a Loved One's Will? See a Solicitor Straight Away!

Legal News - Mon, 2020-01-13 05:00

If you feel that you have been wrongly left out of a loved one's will, you should see a solicitor straight away. The wisdom of acting promptly was emphasised by a case in which a pensioner who delayed taking legal action almost lost the roof over her head.

The woman had, for over 25 years, shared a home with a man who she claimed was her husband. The property was held in his sole name and, by his final will, he left it and everything else he owned to his daughter. Following his death, the daughter took steps to evict the woman from the property.

The woman launched proceedings under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision from the man's estate on the basis that she was financially dependent on him. The claim was, however, lodged long after the expiry of the six-month time limit that applies to such proceedings. A judge refused to extend that deadline and, after the woman failed in a first appeal against that decision, her claim was dismissed.

In upholding her challenge to that outcome, the Court of Appeal found that the judge's decision was plainly wrong. He had completely discounted the fact that the woman risked losing her home if the time limit were not extended. The merits of her claim were strong and it was a plain case for such an extension to be granted.

The Court noted that one of the reasons for the delay in taking legal action was that the woman had, during a crucial period, dispensed with professional advice, relying instead on the guidance of a friend who had no legal qualifications. The Court's ruling opened the way for the woman to proceed with her claim.

Council ‘Seriously Misled’ Into Granting Residential Planning Permission

Legal News - Wed, 2020-01-08 05:00

Official decision-making is only as good as the advice on which it is based. The High Court succinctly made that point in ruling that a local authority was seriously misled into granting itself planning permission for a residential development.

The case concerned a countryside meadow owned by the council, which was said by objectors to have been used for generations for community pastimes – including maypole dancing, dog walking, children’s play and Sunday school outings. After the council granted itself permission to build a large house on the meadow, a local campaigner mounted a judicial review challenge.

The council based its decision on a planning officer’s report which stated that the proposal, whilst conflicting with some local planning policies, was acceptable and would cause less than substantial harm to the conservation area in which the meadow was located. Any such harm was said to be outweighed by the public benefits of constructing a well-designed dwelling.

In quashing the permission, however, the Court noted that the report failed to make any mention of two key local countryside protection policies. The report’s assertion that the proposal complied with the local development plan, when read as a whole, was thus seriously misleading.

The Court also identified an unexplained inconsistency between the decision and previous resolutions of the same council to refuse planning consent for two similar developments. Had councillors received correct advice, the Court found that they might well have reached a different decision.

Ethical Veganism is a Protected Characteristic, ET Rules

Legal News - Mon, 2020-01-06 05:00

In a decision that broke new legal ground, an Employment Tribunal (ET) has ruled that ethical veganism is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Jordi Casamitjana, 55, brought a claim against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, alleging that he was unfairly dismissed because of his ethical veganism. As a preliminary question, the ET had to consider whether ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’ and thus falls within the protected characteristic of religion or belief under the Act.

Ethical vegans not only eat a plant-based diet but also avoid using any products associated with exploitation of animals, such as clothes made from wool or leather.

For a belief to constitute a philosophical belief, it must be genuinely held, be a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint, concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, be worthy of respect in a democratic society, and not be incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The ET ruled that ethical veganism met the definition of a philosophical belief. The issue of whether Mr Casamitjana’s ethical veganism was the reason for his dismissal will be considered at a later date.

Making A Will? Leaving Out Your Dependants Is a Recipe for Conflict!

Legal News - Fri, 2020-01-03 05:00

Failing to remember those who depend on you financially in your will is an invitation to discord amongst your loved ones after you are gone. That was certainly so in the case of a businessman who, despite having an estate worth over £4 million when he died, left his widow bereft of an income to support herself.

The length of the man’s marriage to his second wife meant that she would doubtless have had a claim to a share of his wealth, or at least to have her reasonable needs met, had their relationship ended in divorce. By his will, however, he bequeathed her only a half share in the matrimonial home, which was heavily mortgaged, and a car. She was left with no independent source of income and the car was subsequently taken from her because it was held on a lease from the husband’s company.

After she brought a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, seeking reasonable provision from her husband’s estate, the High Court noted that the dispute was particularly tragic. She and her husband’s three children from his first marriage had all got on perfectly well prior to his death. The bitter family rift created by the terms of his will, however, had since locked them into emotional and expensive litigation.

With the trial date for the widow’s claim still some distance in the future, she sought interim financial relief so that she could meet her essential outgoings. On the basis that her claim was likely to succeed, at least to some extent, the Court ordered that, in order to meet her immediate needs, she be paid £5,200 in monthly maintenance from the estate pending the resolution of the case.

The Court also directed that she be paid a £55,578 lump sum from the estate for the purpose of meeting legal costs run up in the litigation. The Court expressed the hope that the family members might resolve their differences by mediation, rendering a contested trial of the action unnecessary.

Lawyers Cut Gordian Knot to Win Disabled Boy Millions in Compensation

Legal News - Thu, 2020-01-02 05:00

Clinical negligence claims are often replete with medical and legal complexity and conducting them without specialist professional advice is really not an option. That was certainly so in the case of a disabled 11-year-old boy who was starved of oxygen in the minutes before his traumatic birth.

The NHS trust that ran the hospital where he was born conceded that there was a negligent delay in his delivery. However, he also suffered a stroke shortly after birth and it was agreed that medical staff were not to blame for that. Difficult issues thus arose as to the extent to which his brain damage and resulting lifelong disabilities had been caused by the admitted negligence.

Following negotiations, however, the boy’s legal team succeeded in cutting through that issue and agreeing a final settlement of his claim. Together with a lump sum of £4,783,100, the trust agreed to make annual, index-linked and tax-free payments to cover the costs of the 24-hour care he will need for life. Those payments will start at £100,000 before rising to £230,000 when he reaches the age of 19.

In approving the settlement, the High Court paid tribute to lawyers on both sides for their efforts in achieving a just resolution of a far from straightforward case. The boy was also very fortunate in having devoted parents who had lavished care upon him. The settlement would, amongst other things, enable purchase of a suitable family home and its adaptation to meet his special needs.

Letting Your Property Become Derelict Can Have Severe Consequences

Legal News - Tue, 2019-12-31 05:00

An Englishman’s home is proverbially his castle, but letting your property fall into an advanced state of disrepair can have serious legal consequences. A householder found that out to his cost when his near-derelict home was compulsorily purchased by a local authority after it became a blight on his neighbours.

A decade after the man bought a long lease of the house for £62,000, it was so badly afflicted by rising damp and dry rot that the floor in its front room had collapsed. After neighbours complained that their homes were being affected by the decay in the house's condition, the local authority exercised its power under Section 17 of the Housing Act 1985 to compulsorily acquire the property.

In assessing the amount of compensation payable by the council under Section 15 of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) noted that, following the acquisition, it had cost almost £40,000 to refurbish the property to the standard required to enable its onward sale.

The FTT awarded £28,000 in compensation on the basis that that was the property’s value as at the date of the compulsory purchase. That sum being by some margin insufficient to pay off the mortgage secured on the property, the FTT directed that it be paid by the council directly to the lender. The householder, who played no active part in the proceedings, received nothing.

EAT Breathes New Life into IT Worker’s Disability Discrimination Claim

Legal News - Fri, 2019-12-27 05:00

Can a dismissal be an act of discrimination if the affected employee is subsequently reinstated? In a case concerning a disabled IT support analyst, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) answered that important question in the affirmative.

The man’s employer, a railway infrastructure company, was aware that he suffered from ulcerative colitis. Due to that condition, which amounted to a disability, his record of absence from work was on any view high. He had been off work sick for almost five months when he was given notice of redundancy. After that notice period expired, he was dismissed.

That decision was in breach of a national agreement between the employer and trade unions that there would be no compulsory redundancies amongst workers in the man’s grade during the relevant year. Having apparently realised its error, the employer first extended the redundancy notice and then revoked it. The man returned to work and was still in the same employment when he launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings.

In dismissing, amongst other complaints, his direct disability discrimination claim, the ET found that it was a genuine redundancy situation and that his dismissal was not a sham. His employer handled his dismissal poorly, but it had arisen from management ineptitude rather than from his disability. The man having in any event treated himself as employed throughout, the ET found that, on his reinstatement, his dismissal effectively vanished.

In upholding his appeal against that ruling, the EAT noted that the man was the only one amongst the employer’s large workforce to be dismissed in breach of the union agreement. There had apparently been some animus directed towards him because of his frequent absences from work and there had been no consideration of whether that was the underlying reason for the employer’s error.

His reinstatement was irrelevant to the issue of whether the employer’s failure to retract the redundancy notice before it took effect was a detriment that arose because of his disability. The same ET was directed to consider the man’s disability discrimination claim afresh in the light of the EAT’s ruling.

Daughter of Soldier Killed By IRA Wins Vindication and Right to Damages

Legal News - Mon, 2019-12-23 05:00

Where the criminal process fails to deliver justice, civil compensation claims can be the only means by which victims can achieve vindication. The point was powerfully made by the case of a soldier’s daughter who triumphed in her damages claim against a man who was an active participant in an IRA bomb attack which killed her father.

The 19-year-old soldier and fellow members of the Household Cavalry were riding through Hyde Park on 20 July 1982 when a radio-controlled car bomb exploded. He and three other soldiers lost their lives and 31 other people were injured. His then four-year-old daughter was in the barracks crèche at the time and heard the explosion, also witnessing the shocking aftermath at first hand.

The man was suspected almost from the outset of involvement in the attack, but his extradition from Ireland to stand trial was not pursued. He was not arrested until 2013 when he voluntarily arrived at Gatwick Airport. His trial on four murder charges collapsed after it emerged that, as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, he had been sent in error a letter which gave him official assurance that he was not under investigation. He had flown to the UK in reliance on that assurance.

The dismissal of the murder charges as an abuse of process, however, did not deter lawyers from launching civil proceedings against him on behalf of the soldier’s now-adult daughter. She claimed damages on behalf of her father’s estate and for the psychiatric harm she personally suffered due to the bombing. Her openly stated aim in pursuing the case was to achieve vindication for the deadly attack on her father.

In upholding her claim, the High Court found as a fact that her father was unlawfully killed by persons acting together in the name of the IRA, of which the man was a member. Fingerprint evidence established on the balance of probabilities that he was knowingly involved in a concerted plan to detonate a bomb which was specifically targeted at soldiers going about their ceremonial duties. The amount of the daughter’s compensation would be assessed at a further hearing.

Council Tenant Overcharged for Water Wins Right to Substantial Refund

Legal News - Fri, 2019-12-20 05:00

Council tenants are obliged to pay utility bills like anyone else, but are they entitled to the benefit of discounted prices negotiated by local authorities? A High Court ruling on that crucial issue entitled one overcharged tenant, and a great many others in the same position, to substantial refunds.

The council concerned entered into an agreement with a water company whereby it was billed directly for water provided to its tenants’ homes. The bills were in effect discounted by what was described as a ‘commission’, payable to the council, of 9.3 per cent. The commercial rationale behind that was that it reflected the benefit to the water company of simplified billing arrangements. The council also took on the burden of collecting sums due from tenants and any bad debts arising, which would otherwise have fallen on the water company.

For more than 13 years, the council collected water utility payments from its tenants which did not reflect the discount. One of the tenants took legal action, claiming a substantial refund on the basis that the council had, for an extended period, overcharged him for his water usage.

In upholding the tenant’s claim, the Court found that, on a true interpretation of the agreement, the water company’s services had been provided directly to the council and that the latter was obliged to pay for them. The Court rejected the council’s argument that its role was limited to that of an agent recovering water charges from its tenants on the water company’s behalf. On that basis, the council had operated as a reseller of water to its tenants.

Ruling that the discount should have been passed on to the tenant, the Court found that, by virtue of the Water Resale Orders 2001 and 2006, the council was entitled to recover from him only those sums that it actually paid to the water company, plus modest administration charges. The amount of the tenant’s refund has yet to be calculated. However, the Court’s decision is likely to cost the council millions in that it opens the way for a large number of other tenants who have also suffered overcharging to launch similar claims.

Part-Time Judges Come Out on Top in Supreme Court Pensions Dispute

Legal News - Fri, 2019-12-20 05:00

An important Supreme Court ruling concerning the pension rights of part-time judges has removed a potential obstacle in the way of justice being obtained by part-time workers who are treated less favourably than comparable full-time colleagues.

Depending on their length of service, full-time, salaried judges who were appointed on or before 31 March 1995 are entitled to receive pensions on reaching retirement age under the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993. However, the same benefit is not available to part-time, fee-paid judges on the basis that they are not qualifying judicial office-holders as defined by the Act.

In those circumstances, four current and former judges who served at least part of their time on the bench on a part-time basis complained to an Employment Tribunal (ET) of less favourable treatment, contrary to the Part-time Workers Directive (Directive 97/81) and the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.

Claims under the Regulations must be brought within three months of the date on which the alleged less favourable treatment or detriment occurs and the judges’ complaints were dismissed on the basis that they had been brought too late. The ET found that the three-month time limit began to run on the date of their appointment and that their claims were thus substantially out of time.

In ruling on their appeals against that decision, the Court noted that judicial office-holders, whether full- or part-time, are not employed under contracts. The judges might well have been able to complain of unequal treatment on the date of their appointment due to the lack of any provision for a pension, equivalent to that available to their full-time colleagues, in their terms of office.

In unanimously upholding their appeals, however, the Court found that that did not detract in any way from the less favourable treatment that they undoubtedly suffered, or would suffer, at the point of retirement. As a matter of common sense, the detriment that they suffered when compared to full-time judges was continuing and persisted throughout their periods of office. Time in respect of the three-month limitation period thus began to run on the date of their retirement. The Court made declarations to give effect to its decision.

Tribunal Corrects Mistake on the Land Register Arising From Fraud

Legal News - Fri, 2019-12-20 05:00

It would be very convenient if the Land Registry always held a completely accurate record of exactly who owns which property, but that is sadly not the case. The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) made that point when stepping in to correct a mistake on the register arising from fraud.

The case concerned a bankrupt man who had paid £75,000 for a suburban house and was for 17 years its registered owner. On the face of it, he then sold the property to a Belize-registered company for £36,000, a sum just sufficient to pay off the mortgage and the costs of the transaction. After a property transfer was filed with the Land Registry, the company was registered as the house’s new proprietor.

When the man’s trustees in bankruptcy launched proceedings, the FTT found on the basis of expert handwriting evidence that his signatures on the transfer and other documents were forgeries. As a result, he had no idea that his property had been transferred to the company at a very significant undervalue – it had later been put on the market for £280,000 – until after the event.

Whilst stopping short of finding that the company was party to the fraud, the FTT ruled that justice demanded that the mistake on the register be rectified. On the basis that the transfer was void, it directed the Chief Land Registrar to substitute the trustees in bankruptcy as the property’s registered owners.

The FTT found that the company was aware that it was purchasing the property for less than its true value. If it wished to claim back the money it had paid for the house from the trustees, it would have to establish that it was not guilty of fraud and that there had been no lack of care on its part. It would in any event have to stand in line with the man’s other creditors.

Rules of Fairness Apply to Big and Small Businesses Alike

Legal News - Tue, 2019-12-17 05:00

In small family businesses, disagreements are often patched up informally. However, as an Employment Tribunal (ET) ruling showed, it is vital to remember that legal standards of fairness in employment relationships apply to them in just the same way as to giant corporations.

The case concerned a woman who had worked as a stylist in a hair salon owned by her sister for over 20 years. Heated exchanges between them were commonplace, but would generally be resolved amicably, sometimes with a bunch of flowers and an apology. Matters took a different course, however, following a row in which the stylist swore at her sister and refused to leave the premises when asked.

The stylist was served with a formal suspension letter and she was summarily dismissed following a disciplinary process conducted by her sister’s partner, who performed an administrative role in the business. After she sought to appeal, she was denied a hearing on the basis that she had put forward no further information and had stated that she did not want her job back in any event.

After she launched an unfair dismissal claim, the ET took account of the modest size of the business and its limited administrative resources. The stylist admitted having used foul language and refusing to leave the salon and her sister’s partner, who was trying to help out in good faith, had done his best to follow a fair procedure. Both he and the sister genuinely believed that the stylist was guilty of gross misconduct which justified her dismissal.

In upholding her complaint, however, the ET pinpointed flaws in the decision-making process and found that her dismissal fell outside the range of responses open to a reasonable employer. Her sister’s partner had closed his mind to her claim that she had been provoked and she had been given no opportunity to challenge her sister’s account of the argument. Those shortcomings were exacerbated by the fact that she was not allowed to appeal against her dismissal.

There was no evidence that the particular altercation between the sisters was any different from previous rows between them and the ET found that the incident could reasonably have been dealt with by issuing a warning to the stylist not to overstep the mark again. The ET nevertheless found that, given her admitted misconduct, she bore 25 per cent of the responsibility for her own dismissal. The amount of her compensation will be assessed at a further hearing.

Thinking of Making a Will Without Legal Advice? Read This First!

Legal News - Mon, 2019-12-16 05:00

Having your will professionally drafted and signing it in front of a solicitor really is the best way of ensuring that your wishes are honoured after you are gone. In a case on point, the High Court gave effect to a matriarch’s final will, despite her daughter’s concerted attack on its validity.

By the will, the woman, who died just before her 97th birthday, left small legacies to two of her daughters and everything else that she owned, including her home, to her son. One of the daughters claimed that she had lacked the mental capacity to make a valid will and that the son had exerted undue influence over her.

In ruling on the dispute, the Court noted that the will was rational on its face. The daughter’s claim that her mother was incapacitated by dementia when she signed it was wholly undermined by contemporaneous medical records. There was also no evidence to support the daughter’s allegations that her mother’s signature on the will was a forgery or that the son had forced her to sign it.

The professional drafting of the will and its execution in the presence of a solicitor created a strong presumption in favour of its validity. The daughter’s contradictory, self-serving and deliberately misleading evidence came nowhere near to dislodging that presumption. The Court had no hesitation in upholding the validity of the will and thanked the son’s lawyer for his assistance in what was an extremely emotionally charged case.

Have You Been Defamed on the Internet? See a Lawyer Today!

Legal News - Thu, 2019-12-12 05:00

The internet unfortunately provides an opportunity for wide publication of defamatory statements at the click of a button. However, a High Court case strikingly showed that the law can move fast to protect reputations and put a stop to such activities.

The case concerned a wealthy investor and philanthropist who was the subject of a number of wounding posts by a prolific user of a social media platform. In summary, they alleged that he was a criminal money launderer who had lobbied in favour of a hard Brexit at the behest of a foreign power.

After lawyers launched defamation proceedings on his behalf, a judgment was swiftly obtained against the user, who put in no defence to the claim. An injunction was issued against him requiring him to remove the offending posts, but that was done not by him but by the platform provider.

In awarding the philanthropist £10,000 in damages, the Court found that all practicable steps had been made to contact the user and that he had chosen to play no part in the proceedings. His conduct was serious in that he had cavalierly accused the philanthropist of criminal misconduct in a very public forum.

The user’s behaviour in response to the claim had aggravated the injury to the philanthropist’s feelings and the latter was entitled to full vindication. Although an award of damages in excess of £20,000 would have been more than justified, the philanthropist had limited his claim to half that sum. Unless the user agreed to publish a correction and apology on his social media profile, he would be required to post a summary of the Court’s judgment.

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