International Bar Association Defends Trade Treaty

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership came under fire from various sides including a number of political parties recently through election amnifestors. David W Rivkin, president of the International Bar Association (IBA), has now come to the defence of the proposed treaty in a statement in which he aimed to rectify misconceptions about the nature of the agreement.

Among the parties who hit out at the treaty in their manifestos are the Green Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and UKIP. Rivkin, who is also a partner at prominent New York legal firm Debevoise & Plimpton, said that critics of the potential trade agreement were “subverting debate” through the use of inaccurate information. In particular, he said, incorrect claims were being made about matters of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) contained within the treaty’s terms.

As a result of such erroneous claims about the agreement, Rivkin said in his statement: The IBA Arbitration Committee and I are concerned that the discussions about ISDS in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are being compromised.”

ISDS is the process through which businesses can make complaints against nation states. Through ISDS, the businesses in question can undergo a process of arbitration through which they can have their complaints examined and the dispute settled.

The arbitration committee of the IBA, Rivkin said, is now going to analyse the matter of ISDS in depth. The committee will look at the full range of criticisms and concerns being raised about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’s treatment of the matter, as well as the proposed benefits of ISDS. The aim will be to identify which criticisms of ISDS are substantiated in fact, and which are untrue or based on misconceptions.

Among the complaints being made about ISDS in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which Rivkin claims to be misconceptions are:

  • Investors Win Every Time: In fact, Rivkin says, a greater proportion of cases have been won by states than by investors. Around a third of all cases have come to an end with investors and states reached a settlement.
  • ISDS is Guarded From the Public Eye: Another prominent complaint being made against ISDS is that proceedings rarely come under scrutiny from the public. The IBA, however, says that the majority of awards are published and that some proceedings are even streamed live online. Furthermore, a number of recent investment treaties allow for public attendance at proceedings.
  • States are Forced to Change Laws Through ISDS: It has been claimed that ISDS can force states to change laws and policies against their will. However, the truth is that “States subject to investment treaty arbitration cannot be ordered to amend their laws or change their policies, and awards issued by investment tribunals do not order states to change their policies or laws.”

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Safari Users to Sue Google

Google Logo 2010Users of Safari, Apple’s internet browser, which comes installed as standard on many of the company’s products, have won the right to sue Google over issues of privacy. A Court of Appeal bid, in which Google sought to block the legal action, has ruled against the search giant.

The users in question claim that Google misused privacy settings and bypassed security features of the Safari browser for its targeted advertising campaigns. By bypassing their security settings, Google was able to install cookies to track the internet activities of users. This information was then used to guide advertising campaigns and choose which adverts would be displayed to those users based on their browsing history.

Google took the case to the Court of Appeal seeking to prevent legal action from the claimants. The company claimed that Safari users could not sue because they had suffered no financial loss as a result of the company’s actions, and therefore there was no case for Google to answer to. However, the court ruled that the claimants’ allegations “raise serious issues which merit a trial.”

Google’s defeat in the Court of Appeal was described by one of the users seeking to sue as “a David and Goliath victory.” Google, on the other hand, said that it was “disappointed with the court’s decision” to allow the claimants to bring legal action against the company.

Safari is installed as standard on the computers produced by Apple, as well as on other devices such as the popular iPad range of tablets. Allegedly, the “Safari Workaround” was utilised by Google to get around the security settings and preferences of the browser in order to install cookies – pieces of code that can track and record data – against the wishes of the users. These then gathered information about the ethnicity, social demographic, and browsing habits of those users without their knowledge or consent so that Google could more specifically target them with advertising.

According to the Court of Appeal’s judgement, the allegations against Google “concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature… and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

Should the case against Google prove successful, the millions of people in the UK who use Apple devices could potentially be able to bring similar cases against the web giant.

According to one claimant, Judith  Vidal-Hall, “The Court of Appeal has ensured Google cannot use its vast resources to evade English justice.” As a result, she said, “Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions.”

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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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Paris Mayor Announces Intention to Sue Fox News

Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, has claimed that she intends to sue American television news outlet Fox News over comments made about the city. Specifically, she was referring to claims that Paris and other European cities include areas where Islamic Law is in force and where non-Muslims cannot or do not go.

Fox News has been widely mocked around the world for a number of inaccurate comments that seem designed to provoke anti-Muslim sentiments. One “expert” guest on the network recently made several such claims about the UK which were both condemned and ridiculed. Steve Emerson, who claims to be “an internationally recognised expert on terrorism,” said that Birmingham is a Muslim-only city. He also said that parts of London feature Muslim religious police who patrol the streets physically assaulting “anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.” This provoked comments from Prime Minister David Cameron, who said “This guy is clearly a complete idiot” and that “[he should] look at Birmingham and see what a fantastic example it is bringing people together of different faiths and different backgrounds and building a world-class brilliant city”

In the light of these kinds of comments, the channel has recently been accused of scaremongering and of attempting to stir up hatred of Muslims in ways that have been generally considered absurd. However, Hidalgo’s comments represent the first time the mockery has turned into actual threats of legal action. Rumours that the City of Birmingham may launch similar legal action have been confirmed as false.

Hidalgo’s ire was drawn by comments suggesting the city of Paris featured “no-go zones” for non-Muslims, and that the city felt “a bit like Afghanistan.” Hidalgo claims that this constitutes defamation of the city, saying “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”

Based on this, Hidalgo expressed the opinion that “When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed.”

Fox News has largely dismissed the idea of this lawsuit. Michael Clemente, the network’s executive vice president, described the idea of the lawsuit as “a bit misplaced.” The highest-rated host on Fox, Bill O’Reilly, also commented on the lawsuit as part of his regular programme. O’Reilly said that the idea was “ridiculous.” He went on to make comments such as “the mayor is a socialist,” “this is an attention-getter” and “Fox News isn’t even seen in France.”

Legal experts are sceptical about the chances of the lawsuit’s success, partly because of international complications. Precedents suggest US courts do not recognise the concept of defamation against a city, and Fox’s limited presence in France gives limited power to French courts on the matter.

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Discount Air Travel Site Sued by Travel Companies

Air TravelSkiplagged, a site dedicated to finding cheap airfares is facing legal action from Orbitz and United Airlines. The two major travel companies say they are suing the site to regain lost revenue.

The site is dedicated to uncovering lower airfares by identifying cheaper flights that include a stopover in your desired destination. For instance, suppose you wanted to fly to New York. It may be cheaper to book a flight to a lower-demand destination which includes a stopover in New York than to simply book onto a New York flight. Then, when you reach the stopover you simply remain in New York rather than travelling on to the final destination. The site in question is dedicated to helping people identify opportunities to save money through using this method.

There are some catches to this approach. For a start, it only works with one-way tickets. Furthermore, those who travel with this method cannot book in any luggage. If they did, they would find they are unable to claim it in their stopover destination as it would be taken onwards to the destination they had booked. However, many travellers have found that this kind of booking is adequate for their needs and have been saving money with help from the website in question.

Orbitz and United Airlines claim that by helping customers to do this, Skiplagged is engaging in “unfair competition.” They are suing Skiplagged in order to reclaim the revenue they have lost as a result of people manipulating the system and paying less for their flights. The claim that the revenue they have lost as a result of people using Skiplagged amounts to at least US$75,000.

The two firms said, in their legal filing, that the site was making them breach contracts by “intentionally and maliciously” interfering in their operations. Furthermore, they claimed that the use of this kind of “hidden city” ticket is restricted on account of “logistical and public safety concerns,” meaning that passengers were breaking the rules when using Skiplagged.

However, the founder of Skiplagged, Aktarer Zaman, denies any wrongdoing. He claims that he has merely helped people to save money and exposed “inefficiencies” in the way airlines handle ticket prices. He also claims not to have made any profit from the site. The 22-year-old developer has launched a fundraising campaign to help raise the money needed to fight the legal battle.

In a blog post, Zaman wrote: “Everything Skiplagged has done and continues to do is legal, but the only way to effectively prove this is with lawyers.”

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Ferguson Protests Reach London

A protester marches to show her solidarity with the family of black teenager Michael Brown outside the American Embassy in LondonThere have been large-scale and high-profile protests in the US since the police shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Following the recent decision not to charge the police officer who shot Brown, similar protests have sprung up in London with hundreds or, by some reports, thousands of people gathering outside the US embassy.

Missouri teenager Mike Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson after being stopped for jaywalking. Witness accounts differ as to exact details, but it is clear that Brown was running away at the time he was killed, and many claim that he had his hands raised in surrender during at least part of the confrontation. Wilson fired a total of twelve shots over the course of the incident, with six hitting Brown and the final one killing him.

The shooting was followed by massive local protests, and controversy about the way US police departments are armed. In particular, critics have drawn attention to the way the police are coming increasingly militarised, being supplied with heavier weapons which they are often poorly trained in utilising. Another key issue raised was the way the police treat black suspects. Brown was shot by a white policeman patrolling a predominantly black neighbourhood. Statistics have been pointed out such as the fact that black people are significantly underrepresented in Ferguson’s police force, and that, though drug use is equally prevalent among black and white residents of the area, black residents are significantly more likely to be stopped, searched and prosecuted for possession.

Protests, sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent, broke out in the area with “hands up don’t shoot” being used as a chant. Protests and controversy alike have been reignited by the announcement that Wilson will not face prosecution for killing Brown. The “hands up don’t shoot” chant is now also being used by the London protestors, who have gathered outside the city’s US embassy.

The protestors initially observed a minute’s silence, and then proceeded to march down Oxford Street towards Parliament Square. The protest was reportedly organised by two campaign groups, London Black Revolutionaries and Stand Up To Racism. As well as repeating the chant that was first raised by Ferguson protestors, those in attendance are also using chants such as “Killer Police Off Our Streets.” Many are bearing signs with phrases such as “Black Lives Matter,” Justice for Michael Brown” and No Justice No peace.”

The protest has been described as loud and lively, but remains non-violent.

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26,000 Skip Bail in London Area Over 3 Years

According to recently-released police figures, a period of nearly three years has seen more than 26,000 suspects skip bail in the London area. Among this number are criminal suspects facing allegations of rape, murder, and child sexual abuse.

However, the Metropolitan Police have stressed that this figure includes suspects who skipped bail but were subsequently tracked down and arrested. It therefore does not mean that 26,000 people have escaped and disappeared to apparent freedom while facing criminal charges.

Furthermore, the figures are not confined to serious crimes such as sex offences and murder. They also include people who did not turn up to face minor charges in magistrates’ courts, with serious offences making up a much smaller portion of the total number.

Of these 26,000 people, 3,000 were accused of assault, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm. 198 of those who skipped bail over this period were facing allegations of sexual offences, who failed to turn up in court or to put their names on the sex offenders’ register. Of these, 47 were facing accusations of rape or of attempted rape.

Only three of the 26,000 suspects were facing charges of murder or of attempted murder. One person who skipped bail, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, was alleged to be involved in terrorist activities. Mohamed was one of the most high-profile disappearances in one sense, attracting media attention after absconding.

Other suspects to grab the media spotlight over the three year period after skipping bail include brothers Valodia and Jurius Tarasov.  They were accused of manslaughter along with a third brother, Victoras. Valodia and Jurius both failed to turn up for court to answer to the charge of the manslaughter of Polish national Pawel Pacholak after they allegedly scared him into throwing himself out of a window. Valodia was promptly caught and arrested, and a warrant for the arrest of Jurius was also issued. This case was also notable for the complexities arising from the fact that the brothers were allegedly responsible for the death despite having not physically performed the killing.

Overall, the figures cover the period from the beginning of 2012 up to the 2nd August 2014. This means that the suspects in question absconded over a period of two years and eight months.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said that the force is “committed to maximising every investigative opportunity to bring offenders to justice swiftly and we aim to finalise investigations wherever possible during the first period of detention.”

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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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E-Trial Experiment Hailed as Success

Electronic TrialAn experimental mock e-trial has been conducted by a collection of judges from three different continents in order to assess whether digital courts might have a future. The concept is considered to have particularly strong potential in the arena of international dispute resolution, but is not being ruled out for criminal and civil cases either.

The experiment, which has been hailed as a success, saw participants viewing the trial on two screens. One was used to display live video of the trial, while the other displayed documents relevant to the case. The trial was hosted by CaseLines, a UK-based company specialising in electronic court bundling.

The mock trial that was conducted in order to test the e-trial setup was chaired by a British judge from the Birmingham Civil Justice Centre, His Honour Simon Brown. South Eastern Circuit Judge John Tanzer also participated in the role of the apellant’s counsel.  The appellant was played by Herbert Dixon, a Superior Court judge from Washington, USA. The role of the counsel for the defendant, meanwhile, was filled by New Zealand judge David Harvey.

According to Brown, both time and money could be saved if the digital system is adopted in some cases to replace the “inordinately” long paper process that is currently used. He also pointed to the Mitchell regime and its tightened interpretation of issues related to cost budgeting, suggesting that this made the need for such cost-saving measures particularly strong. Brown also added that, in monetary terms, the system would be within the reach of small businesses.

Harvey expressed similar opinions on the e-trial concept and the results of the mock e-trial itself. He stressed the potential for cost-saving in the resolution of international disputes, as well as the potential for “considerable advantages” in some domestic cases.

Tanzer was also positive about the system, suggesting that it could result in “better use of judicial and practitioner time” when compared to the current system. He also said that many already recognise that such remote access systems could make justice more accessible in criminal cases.

Tanzer went on to point out that a large part of the necessary hardware is already in place or accessible. He added that “This is something you can use through a mobile phone. The video technology might even be better than using some computers.”

Brown, meanwhile, suggested that early adoption of such systems “could put Birmingham [Civil Justice Centre] on the map,” and all that would be needed is for the necessary Wi-Fi  connection to be provided by HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

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Senior Family Judge Calls for No-Fault Divorce

Divorce PetitionSir James Munby, England and Wales’ most senior family judge, has called for no-fault divorce to be introduced, and made available through a much faster, simpler process. He said that such divorces could be carried out without the need for a judge, and handled as a purely administrative matter by registrars.

The government has stated, however, that it does not have any plans to implement a change along these lines, and some have claimed that such a system could be easily abused.

Divorce by consent has, Sir James contends, essentially existed for thirty years. However, it is part of a requirement that couples prove their marriage has broken down irretrievably. Of the five criteria that can be used to achieve this, only one lacks an element of blame. This allows a divorce to be granted only when the couple have been separated with mutual consent for a period of two years. While it is therefore effectively possible to obtain a divorce because both partners are in agreement and without blame, it first requires two years of waiting. It is also necessary for both partners to agree that this is the reason for divorce.

The other forms of evidence that can be used to show a marriage has broken down and obtain a divorce are unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion after a period of two years, or five years separation without mutual consent. All of these hold one partner at fault.

By contrast, many other jurisdictions around the world offer no-fault divorce by mutual consent without the need to wait for a period of two years. Such no-fault divorces were originally going to be introduced in England and Wales by the Family Law Act 1996, but this part of the Act was scrapped by the Labour government following opposition to the concept.

Sir James is not the first to call for a more workable form of no-fault divorce in England and Wales, and this part of his suggestions will doubtless attract considerable support. However, the idea of treating such divorces as an administrative matter with no involvement from a judge will likely be more controversial.

Sir James contends that such divorces are already handled in this way in other countries, and that such a system “seems to work.” However, some legal professionals remain opposed to the idea. For example, Marilyn Stowe, a senior partner at Stowe Family Law, contends that divorce “should remain a legal process” because it is in essence “the dissolution of a legally binding contract of marriage.” Stowe also suggested that the system could be abused if “removed from judicial supervision.”

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