Volkswagen Scandal Sparks Worldwide Legal Action

Volkswagen Golf TDIThe Volkswagen emissions scandal has sparked a wave of litigation across the world. This includes the automotive giant’s home country of Germany, where the company could be facing criminal charges for its efforts to manipulate emissions tests.

The scandal broke when it emerged recently that the major vehicle manufacturer had fitted a number of its diesel vehicles with software designed to alter the results of the USA’s emission testing process. These “defeat devices” enabled the cars to effectively cheat on major emissions tests, providing readings that did not represent the actual emissions levels produced by the car in use. As a result, the vehicles were able to get through the tests even though their engines produced up to 40 times the legal limit of harmful emissions at other times.

The revelations caused the company’s shares to rapidly lose 30% of their value, and led the chief executive of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, to step down. According to some news reports, funds equivalent to £4.3 billion have been set aside by VW in anticipation of the costs involved in dealing with the fallout of the scandal.

The revelation of the scandal has led to legal proceedings against the company in various jurisdictions. In the US, the country where Volkswagen has so far been shown to have fooled emissions tests, the country has asked international legal firm Kirkland & Ellis to handle expected litigation. In Germany, where the company is based, it is possible that criminal charges could be brought.

Major UK legal firm Slater and Gordon predicts that the company could also face legal action on British shores. A group claim could potentially be brought against Volkswagen by the many dealerships and individuals who purchased cars which have now severely fallen in value as a result of the scandal. A prominent specialist in shareholder fraud has predicted that a group claim by shareholders could also potentially be valid, having seen nearly a third of the value of their shares wiped out by the scandal.

Environmental law specialists ClientEarth have also weighed in on the matter, asking the Department for Transport to look into whether VW’s use of software to cheat on emissions tests may be part of a more widespread practice within the automotive sector.

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton said: “The industry has shown it cannot be trusted. We cannot wait for action from the EU. First responsibility for protecting our health lies with our own government. The public must know the full scale of the problem and urgent action must be taken to fix it. Flouting laws cannot be tolerated.”

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Lincoln to Ban Public Use of Legal Highs

Town center - Andy WeekesLincoln is to ban the use of “legal highs” within the city centre. A council report claims that Lincoln has developed a reputation as a city with “a ready and cheap supply” of legal highs, and it is hoped that the ban will help to stem the problem.

In particular, authorities in the historic cathedral city are concerned that such a reputation could lead to “legal high tourism” where people visit the area specifically to partake of legal substances that produce drug-like effects. It is hoped that banning the use of such substances in the city centre will discourage people from travelling in order to take advantage of this apparent supply.

The city’s problem with legal highs has escalated rapidly in recent years. In 2011, police only recorded seven incidents which involved the logging of the phrase “legal high.” By 2014, this had leapt to 820 incidents – more than 114 times the 2011 figure. According to research carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, the number of legal high-related incidents logged by Lincoln last year was greater than any other police force that supplied data.

The use of legal highs within the city has led to significant problems with anti-social behaviour, according to City of Lincoln Council. The ban on the public use of such substances is part of an attempt to curb these issues, and makes use of a new power recently introduced by government called a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO).

Under the new ban, people will be prohibited from using “intoxicating substances” publicly within Lincoln’s city centre, whether or not those substances are in themselves legal. Alcohol is also an intoxicating substance, and will be also therefore fall under the ban. However, the measure is only effective in public spaces. People will still be entitled to purchase alcohol or legal highs, then take them home in order to use them in private.

According to Lincoln’s manager for public protection and anti-social behaviour Sam Barstow: “The whole driver behind this for us has been about taking a proactive stance and trying to do something innovative to tackle an issue that’s really having an impact on people that live locally, people that work locally and people that might want to come and visit our city centre.”

The initiative also has the support of the city centre’s neighbourhood policing inspector Pat Coates. However, Inspector Coates feels that the measures being rolled out do not go far enough.

“We would like to see better legislation to enable us to deal with the actual sellers,” Inspector Coates said.

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Law Society Find Counter-Slavery Bill Lacking

human traffickingThe Law Society has criticised a new bill aimed at tackling the issues of slavery and people trafficking, believing it to be insufficient. In particular, the Society claims that the bill is lacking in “clarity, precision and simplicity” and that it does not “safeguard victims effectively.”

The Law Society, who will be discussing the issue of trafficking at their upcoming human rights conference, addressed these concerns to a parliamentary committee following the second reading of the Modern Slavery Bill. Specifically, these opinions were contained within evidence which the Society submitted to a public bill committee which has been convened to consider the bill by the House of Commons.

The bill would, if passed, be one of the world’s first targeted attempts to address the issue of slavery and people trafficking in its modern form. It would also be the first bill of this kind introduced by any country in Europe. While a number of current offences exist which are applicable to issues of slavery, this bill would consolidate them into a dedicated, targeted set of legislation for tackling modern slavery. The bill also aims to establish an anti-slavery commissioner to lead dedicated efforts at combating this type of crime.

The Society has stressed that it fully supports the aims of the bill, but has concerns about the sufficiency of the way it currently sets out to achieve those aims. The key concern of the Society was the absence of adequate safeguards for those who have survived trafficking and slavery. In particular, it was felt that the bill needs to do more to protect children who have fallen victim to traffickers.

The Society also raised a number of other concerns about the bill, including the fact that they felt that the given offences were neither precise nor clear enough in the way they were defined. Many clauses, the Society believed, were unnecessarily complex and poorly aligned with international definitions of forced labour and trafficking. Furthermore, they feared that the current form of the bill would allow some related offences to slip through the net, or at least hinder effective law enforcement.

On top of this, the Society feared that the anti-slavery commissioner would lack effectiveness on account of not being independent of the Home Secretary. The Society also worried that the bill could leave traffickers and slave masters with the opportunity to avoid prosecution through “double criminality.” This requires that the crime be an offince in both the requiring and receiving countries.

President of the Law Society Andrew Caplen said: “We applaud the government for taking seriously the ongoing problem of modern slavery, and also their plans to address the issue, but have reservations about the effectiveness of the proposals.”

Caplen added that “With the British government leading the way on modern slavery legislation, it is of paramount importance that the bill safeguards victims effectively and sets an example in this field.”

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Dolce and Gabbana Sentenced to Jail Time Over Tax Evasion

The Italian government sentenced a one year and eight month imprisonment term for renowned Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana for tax evasion. The government accuses them of hiding millions of euros from Italian tax authorities. The two designers have not left a public statement about their case. However, they have denied the charges and are still suspended until their appeal.

1The Italian government had worked on the Dolce and Gabbana case in the last six years as part of their plan to crack down on tax evaders. Investigators discovered Dolce and Gabbana had moved their brand to a holding company named Gado in Luxembourg in 2004. Gado was clearly a play in the two designers’ surnames.

The judge said he believes the pair did this to avoid declaring royalty taxes of around 1 billion euros (£833 million) and the pair actually sold the business below its actual market value. Even if they were cleared of the charges in April 2011, the highest court of Italy overturned the ruling.

The Dolce and Gabbana brand is a highly-celebrated company that have Maddona, Kylie Minogue and Kate Moss as customers. Observers estimate that their tax evasion row may have minimal effect on their brand.

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British Officers to Defend Conduct during Iraq War in Court

Britain may need to defend military measures it took during the Iraq War. Nearly 200 Iraqi citizens claim that British military officers were illegally detained and unnecessarily tortured during the Iraq War over the course of five years. They allege that these officers have violated international law.

1The case will be heard in the High Court early next week. The hearings will take place within a couple of months of the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War. The courts have not disclosed how many military and intelligence officers have been implicated in the case. However, the lawyers have explicitly listed the charges that the officers in question are facing. The charges include but may not be limited to:

• Physical violence
• Sleep deprivation
• Religious torture
• Sexual humiliation
• Unnecessary levels of deceit

Renowned human rights lawyer Phil Shiner will be lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Shiner and other attorneys representing the Iraqis filing the charges claim that their evidence shows at least several of the prisoners died as a result of the treatment. The charges also state that female officers made sexual advances towards the prisoners to extract information from them.

The High Court will need to need to determine the level of culpability of the United Kingdom government. Lawyers on both sides debate whether or not government and key military leaders were aware of the abuse that was taking place. The Ministry of Defence has always stated that they looked into any wrongful death allegations seriously. However, they have still come under fire after a wrongly accused man died in custody of the British government.

Some critics have said that the isolated reports of deaths do not do justice to all the people who have allegedly been victimized during interrogation. One observer said that this case will be the last opportunity for the world to know what really happened and get justice for the victims in question. He said that Britain will need to hold itself to the same standards that it holds the rest of the world.

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Technology Helps Curb Illegal Logging

The plight of the Amazon rainforests is much written about, and with illegal logging adding to the rapid deforestation of the region further concerns have been raised about the future of Brazil’s tropical wonder. However, a Dutch security company – Gemalto – has come up with an ingenious solution that is being trialled right now, and it involves the very latest technology.

The system, named Invisible Tracck, is based around transmitters that are attached to the trunks of trees in a way that makes them practically undetectable. These small devices – smaller than a pack of cards – send out a signal that, when within 20 miles range of a mobile phone network, can be picked up and used to locate the illegally felled tree. The system is being piloted right now, and the devices are specially designed for the Amazon climate and have a battery life of up to a year.

Real Time Tracking

The main advantage of the new system is that it allows for real time tracking of illicit timber, rather than leaving the investigators to rely on outdated and time-wasting methods. Cinterion M2M, which is the Latin American arm of Gemalto, is running the scheme, and General Manager Ramzi Abdine is enthusiastic about its future:

“The rainforest in Brazil is approximately the size of the United States so it’s impossible to monitor each and every acre.”

Further enthusiasm came from Marcelo Hayashi, of Cargo Tracck, who explained:

“Gemalto’s Cinterion M2M was vital in enabling us to develop a tracking and tracing solution rugged enough to withstand the heat and moisture of the Amazon. It is unique because it’s small for inconspicuous deployment in the field and power-efficient enough to operate over long stretches of time without recharging batteries, which is crucial when tracking trees in remote areas.”

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