Proposed Bill would allow families to “take control” of financial affairs of missing persons

A new Bill which would enable the families of missing persons to apply for legal guardianship of their assets has been backed by a number of MPs at the House of Commons.
The Bill, known as “Claudia’s Law” has been named after Ms Claudia Lawrence, a chef from Yorkshire who has been missing for more than eight years.

It suggests that “distressed” families who find themselves unable to influence the direct debits, mortgage payments and financial affairs of missing persons should have the right to apply to “take control” of their loved one’s finances after a period of 90 days.

Supporters of the Bill say that, currently, many families under “obvious stress” are finding themselves unable to manage the debt of their loved ones in the event that they are ‘missing’ for long periods of time.

Kevin Hollinrake, Malton and Thirsk MP, said: “You can imagine – as well as the obvious stress… of a loved one going missing, you’ve got these other added pressures which may lead to the people themselves losing their home.

“There’s lots of different financial transactions that need to be managed by somebody… It’s just one more problem that needs to be solved.
He said that, if the Bill is passed, a guardian will be able to “take control of the financial affairs of the missing person, will have authority to act on their behalf and will be able to use the property of the missing person to help those left behind”.

Mr Lawrence, father of missing person Claudia Lawrence, added: “After Claudia disappeared I couldn’t believe there wasn’t any law in place in this country to enable those left behind to look after financial affairs.

“It was just mind-boggling at a time when you’re emotionally at your lowest ebb”.

The Bill, which MPs backed unanimously in the Commons, will go to a second reading next month, according to reports.

Research from UK charity Missing People suggests that as many as 80,000 British adults are reported missing every single year.

Drama’s hard-hitting story encourages thousands to seek advice on domestic abuse

A domestic abuse storyline which dominated a Radio 4 drama last year has been credited with helping to raise awareness of the issue.

The Archers’ focus on the misery that Helen Titchener suffered as a result of her husband Rob’s increasingly volatile behaviour was one of the most hard-hitting storylines in the programme’s 66-year history.

It is thought that the harrowing narrative played a major part in directing almost 25,000 people to the BBC website for advice on domestic violence. 1,350 individuals also got in touch via a dedicated support line.

The figures, which were released by the broadcaster at the end of last month, suggest that the plot had a considerable impact beyond the flurry of headlines it generated when events reached their climax in April.

Louiza Patikas, the actress who plays Helen, said: “As part of my research into this storyline I met victims of domestic violence and coercive control, and soon learned that abuse can happen to anyone.”

The Archers’ plotline unfolded slowly over a period of around two and a half years and was widely praised for choosing to focus on a relationship in which an individual repeatedly undermined or put pressure on their partner. Previously dramas have tended to document relationships driven by physical violence.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of the charity Refuge, was among those to acknowledge the “Archers’ effect”, referring to the increased awareness about the difficulties facing many of those trapped in abusive relationships.

“Women listening may realise they are not alone,” she said.

A year ago, the Government introduced a new law to protect victims of “controlling and coercive behaviour” by introducing a new offence. It is now a crime to subject someone to the type of behaviour that stops short of physical violence but which amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse.

It has been suggested that police forces would benefit from better training after it was found that the legislation had been used just 62 times in the six months following its introduction.

For further information about this update please contact Rebecca Amboaje on (0)20 8349 5483 or by email.

New Year, New offices for growing Finchley law firm

A growing Finchley-based law firm is seeing in the New Year by moving to new, larger offices.

OGR Stock Denton LLP, is making the move to build on its recent track record and to facilitate future growth for the firm during 2017.

From Tuesday 3 January 2017, the firm will be based at its new offices at 2nd Floor, Winston House, 2 Dollis Park, London, N3 1HF.

Richard Denton, Managing Partner at OGR Stock Denton LLP, said: “This move signals our ambitions for the future, giving us space to expand and increase the services on offer to commercial and personal clients.

“I know our clients and staff will appreciate the new facilities, including new meeting rooms to improve their experience while at our offices.

“I hope this move will mark the start of a highly successful 2017 for OGR Stock Denton LLP.”

The firm will make the move between Christmas and New Year.

Landlord found guilty of serious gas safety offences

A UK landlord has received a suspended prison sentence and been ordered to pay thousands of pounds in costs upon pleading guilty to gas safety offences.

Mr Paul Perry, 65, carried out a DIY repair at his buy-to-let property in Plymouth despite having no relevant training and not being a member of the Gas Safety Register.

A qualified engineer later visiting the property discovered that Mr Perry’s handiwork had resulted in a serious gas leak – which had the potential to cause a “fatal explosion” at any given time, according to reports.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was promptly contacted and an investigation revealed that Mr Perry had carried out several other gas-related repairs at the property without the correct licence.

A Court was further told that the landlord had failed to appoint qualified engineers to carry out the correct annual gas safety checks at the property for the past six to seven years – even when prompted to do so by his tenants.

The property was occupied by a young family – whose requests for annual checks and copies of the home’s gas safety certificate went completely ignored by Mr Perry, a Court heard.

At Plymouth Crown Court, Mr Perry was handed a ten month prison sentence suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay costs of £4,000.

Commenting on the case, HSE Inspector Simon Jones said: “Landlords have a legal duty to carry out annual gas safety checks which are there to protect their tenants from death or injury.

“In this case, Mr Perry ignored a request from his tenant to carry out the checks and to provide a copy of the safety record.

“He compounded the matter by undertaking gas work himself which he was neither trained nor registered to undertake and which resulted in a gas leak which could have caused a fatal gas explosion”.

Ben Menahem, Solicitor at OGR Stock Denton, added: “A worthy point to make to any clients where an AST is involved is that all statutory compliance is essential – or there could potentially be criminal implications”.

Court of Protection considers brain injured policeman’s case

The Court of Protection is to decide whether to withdraw life support treatment for a police officer who was critically injured in a car crash last summer.

Lindsey Briggs attended proceedings to make an impassioned case for her husband Paul to be allowed to die.

PC Briggs, a former serviceman from Merseyside, suffered catastrophic injuries in the collision, including a bleed on the brain, a fractured spine and damage to his internal organs.

The 43-year-old has been left in a minimally conscious state following the crash.

Medical opinion is that while he may emerge from his current state, he would remain severely disabled physically.

Mrs Briggs said: “I think he would see it as torture, just as hell, that everything he believes in and he lives for would just be taken away from him. He would be living for no reason.”

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust and the Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group suggested there had been some improvements in PC Briggs’ condition and they are concerned that withdrawing “artificial hydration and nutrition” could cause him pain and distress.

The Court of Protection is now considering the evidence and will make a judgment at a later date.

If you need further guidance on matters relating to the Court of Protection please contact Private Client Partner Geoff Dennis or visit our website.

Well-publicised inheritance battle reached the highest court in the land

A long-running inheritance dispute was heard at the Supreme Court this month.

Ilott v The Blue Cross and others concerns the estate of Melita Jackson, who left around £500,000 assets to animal charities when she passed away in 2004.

Her estranged daughter Heather Ilott had subsequently made a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. She argued that her mother had not made “reasonable provision.”

The courts agreed, ruling that she should receive a £50,000 settlement, which increased almost three-fold following an appeal.

Now however, the animal charities which were the original beneficiaries of Ms Jackson’s Will – the Blue Cross, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the RSPCA – have gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the outcome of the previous hearing.

In a joint statement, the charities said: “[We] look forward to the resulting clarity this should bring for the charity sector as a whole, as well as the renewed confidence a clear decision at the highest level will give those making their Wills that their wishes will be respected.”

Will disputes are often complicated and acrimonious affairs. For expert advice please contact Dispute Resolution Partner Ian Pearl or visit our website.

Transport for London fined after worker was hospitalised in fall

London Underground has been handed a half a million pound fine after a maintenance worker suffered a fall in a disused station.

The member of staff sustained a number of injuries and was hospitalised for 10 days after plunging almost 9.5 metres from a scaffold tower while working in a lift shaft at the now defunct South Kentish Town tube station.

Following on from the incident in September 2014, an investigation found that London Underground had failed to plan, manage or supervise the work.

The investigation found that the scaffolding had not been assembled properly and procedures which could have prevented the incident had not been followed.

London Underground admitted a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act at Blackfriars Crown Court in October and this month was fined £500,000 and ordered to pay an additional £50,000 in costs.

Keith Atkinson, HM Principal Inspector of Railways, said: “London Underground has a good safety record, but this incident highlights why there can be no room for complacency.”

A Transport for London (TfL) spokesman said: “This was clearly a serious incident involving one of our employees and we acted quickly to investigate the causes and take action to ensure that it does not happen again.”

If you have suffered an injury or accident at work and need advice on the options available, please contact our head of Dispute Resolution Stephen Silverman or visit our website.

Trade body sets out strategy to improve conveyancing

The Conveyancing Association (CA) recently published a White Paper on possible options for improving the process for buying and selling homes.

The trade body believes that the Government should consider introducing some of the systems already in place in other countries as part of efforts to make transactions clearer and more transparent.

The Paper follows widespread consultation with property professionals, designed to identify areas which would benefit from reform.

Suggestions include a new requirement to make a legal commitment on offer (aimed at reducing the number of transactions which fall through) and the creation of a secure portal for all communications between parties, reducing the possibility of fraud.

Eddie Goldsmith, the CA’s chairman, said the Paper set out a strategy for addressing some of the main problems with the current process.

“We recognise this is not going to be delivered overnight however neither are these flights of fancy that haven’t been achieved ever before,” he said.

“The solutions we propose are readily being used in other jurisdictions and it is our belief that by working together we can help deliver them into the process here, providing significant benefits.”

Beth Rudolf, who authored the Paper, added: “We recognise that we don’t hold all the answers however we believe this is a strong starting point for the industry, and a real statement of intent.”

If you need guidance on buying or selling your home, our experienced conveyancers can provide support at every stage of the process. For further advice please contact the head of the Property team Michael Stock or visit our website.

Woman awarded thousands after successful Tribunal claim

A woman who lost her job after childcare commitments prevented her from working at weekends has been awarded more than £18,000 by an Employment Tribunal.

Beauty therapist Emma Holt had successfully pursued a claim for unfair dismissal against Bannatyne Fitness Ltd.

The Tribunal also ruled that Ms Holt had been the victim of sex discrimination following demands by bosses that she change her shift pattern to work Saturdays and Sundays, despite the fact that she had made clear that she was unable to get childcare for her son.

She had been working for the company for almost a decade when bosses tried to impose the new working arrangements earlier this year.

Explaining why she couldn’t agree to the request, Ms Holt, from the North West, said: “I have always given 150 per cent in this company and I have always run the spa like it is my own. Whatever days I am in they get my full attention and I have put in extra time when needed in the past.

“I am not trying to be difficult with this. I fully understand where the business is coming from. I have no objections to working weekends but I just can’t get childcare that my son will go to.”

Despite this explanation, she was subsequently dismissed, although the business claimed that it had been a redundancy.

Bannatyne later admitted it was guilty of unfair dismissal but had rejected the suggestion that its requests also amounted to sex discrimination.

For expert advice on defending or pursuing an Employment Tribunal claim, please contact the head of our Employment team Susan Bernstein or visit our website.

Firm backs family law association’s campaign for change

OGR Stock Denton this month supported a clarion call from the family law association Resolution to reform the UK’s divorce laws.

The firm took part in a ‘thunderclap’ which took place on social media to raise awareness for Resolution’s campaign to implement a system of no fault divorce.

Peter Martin, head of our Family department, said that apportioning blame “didn’t help” and that solicitors should strive to take a reasonable approach where possible.

At the beginning of December, the association sent a delegation of around 150 members to Westminster to impress on MPs and Peers the importance of fundamental reform to the current system.

They argued that the present laws leave many couples feeling compelled to apportion blame, a trend which they fear leads to increased hostilities in many cases.

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s national chairman, said: “We believe in a better way for separating couples that allows them to divorce without blame, conflict or argument.

“We are pleased with the positive reception our calls for no fault divorce received among MPs and we will continue our call for this much required, widely supported legislative change.”

If you need advice on the divorce process, please contact our head of Family Law Peter Martin or visit our website.