Friday, 25 February 2011

Over charged by $10? Then you need a lawyer costing $1.44M

Mercedes from Hertz car rental
Hertz car hire has some nice cars

This morning the postman dropped a letter through my door from a US attorney in the case of Sobel et al v The Hertz Corp et al, which was sent to me by my in-laws who are asking me what they should do about it.

Basically, the notice informs customers of Alamo Rent a Car that they could be entitled to compensation for a charge that was erroneously added to a number of bills between 2007 and 2009.  This is called a class action and it seems that my in-laws must actively exclude themselves from the action to avoid having anything to do with it.

According to the notice three teams of attorneys have worked tirelessly on this case for four-years and will be claiming fees that come to a little over $1.4M from the defendants.  The total compensation they have negotiated is one $10 voucher off any future car rental taken in the next 18-months per customer.

Brilliant, so for a fee of $1.4M they have negotiated a settlement worth $10 to each person in the class action; is that a proportionate fee for the benefit to their clients?  In bringing this action, they have also taken up time over the past four-years of a Nevada state judge who acted as mediator in this case.  I'm sure people hear about these stories from the US and form opinions that all lawyers the world over take cases that any sensible individual would be told, "looks it's terrible that they overcharged you but is it worth your effort and expense suing these people?"  In this country, a complaint to trading standards would probably be a better and more proportionate response than lawyering up.

We don't have class actions like this in England and Wales and I was always taught that they are a bad thing, although having seen the bill in this case I'm starting to come around to the idea of introducing them!

Incidentally, I recently damaged my car while driving out of my son's nursery on a steel plate that had been installed on a speed bump by the gate.  I was more than a little surprised when everybody who read my tongue-in-cheek status update on Facebook told me to sue the nursery.  The repair cost me a few hundred pounds and maybe I could have sued - but where would it get me?  I get my money back, the nursery, which is already being considered for closure, has to pay out more money it can ill afford.  Potentially, the nursery closes, my little boy can no longer go to a nursery he loves and we have to send him somewhere that came a distant second when we were choosing a place for him.  People believe the adverts when they say "where there's blame there's a claim".  Yes, there maybe a claim, but rushing to law is not always the best way of settling a dispute.

UPDATE 1 October 2015

I updated this post in light of the news that as of today class actions, like the one described above, will be possible here in England and Wales (sorry I've no idea if they can be brought under Scottish law).  The English law will be more restrictive, allowing class actions in limited circumstances and only with the approval of the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The yes/no game

Over the past 9-months or so it's become increasingly common for me to read police station attendance notes that say "call from officer to say ready for interview; attend station and am informed client no longer requires rep, has seen inspector and now in interview.  Returned to office."  Basically, this means that a suspect has been asked by an officer, "would you like a solicitor?" and the suspect has said, "Yes."  But at some later stage (for some reason it's usually between us being told the police are ready to interview and us arriving at the police station), the suspect changes their mind and decides to be interviewed without a solicitor.  The most remarkable instance of this was a call from Stoke Newington saying they were ready to interview.  We actually had a solicitor at the station at the front desk.  In the few minutes it took for us to contact the solicitor and him to speak to the front desk, the client had changed his mind about wanting a solicitor!

If suspects want to do that then fine, I don't have a problem with it.  But, it's the number of times it's happening lately that makes me very suspicious whether police officers haven't gone back to the old trick of telling suspects, "you'll wait hours for a brief," or "if you have the interview now you'll be out in half and hour," etc.

This is a cycle that we seem to go through every few years of suspects being told not to wait for a brief, we complain ad nauseam to the commissioner/cheif constables and then it stops for a few years.

When I started out it seemed like officers didn't really want to screw people over unfairly.  I remember one of my first cases was a burglary.  The young lad was terrified (literally shaking in the interview), the officer was very tough and did a proper interrogation (not unreasonable or wrong I should add just tough).  The officer and I spent most of the interview arguing.  After interview, I was asked to wait in the front office and shortly after the tough officer appeared with an inspector saying that the client had said he didn't want a solicitor any more.  To his credit though, the tough officer was the one who said to the inspector that he didn't think the client should be left without a solicitor and was asking that I be allowed back in to speak with him again!  I can't imagine that happening these days.

Am I wrong?  Any police officers reading this fancy putting me straight if I'm completely wrong about this?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Centralisation of legal aid

Between today and the 25th April 2011, HM Court Service/Legal Services Commission will be moving the administrative job of granting (or refusing) legal aid application away from local courts in London to Havering Mags Court.

This doesn't sound very interesting and probably that's because it isn't.  But, it is a big waste of money that is being done for very short sighted reasons.

The hope, as is the hope with everying the LSC/HMCS do, is that centralising the work will mean quicker decisions reached at a lower cost.  But, it will not work.  It will cost more than the old system.

Previously, if you as a member of the public needed legal aid you could complete a form and hand it in at the court where your case was to be heard.  This was changed slightly last year when courts were clustered so that if you had a case at Redbridge Mags, for example, you had to hand the form in at Highbury Corner, which is just up the road.

Highbury quickly became the least efficient admin centre the world has ever know.  In fact at one point, a month after submitting an application for funding in a murder case I still had no response and the only way I could get a decision was to threaten to have the court manager summoned to appear before the Recorder of London at the Old Bailey to explain the delay!

All of the courts currently handling legal aid are less efficient than they were when each court handled it's own work.

The new centre at Havering will be even worse.

This is annoying for solicitors but it's not the end of the world.  But, the delays caused by legal aid will mean cases are put back and the outcome will be delayed.  Solicitors don't get paid extra per hearing (despite the urban legend that we are all delaying cases to get more money); however, for each case that is delayed that means another case is delayed while it waits in line behind the delayed case.  This means less court time is used to reach effective outcomes (i.e. having trials, sentencing people, entering pleas, etc) and more time is wasted pushing up costs for the courts and CPS and delaying justice for victims and those who have been charged despite being innocent!

Friday, 11 February 2011

MPs legal aid bill

I have just read in the paper that the cost of MPs legal aid bills were "increased substantially after they attempted to avoid criminal proceedings by claiming the ancient right of parliamentary privilege."

I am not sure how that happened since criminal legal aid for solicitors is based on the number of pages served by the prosecution and how many days the trial lasted.  Any legal submission would not have counted toward either the page count or the number of days trial.

Counsel would have received a little more money for the hearings, but I think we are talking in the region of a few hundred pounds rather than "substantial" amounts.

Student fees

I have just read in the Times that ministers are considering barring universities from charging top fees.

When I was a student and tuition fees were first introduced by Labour it was obvious to me that eventually the fees would rise well above the £1,000 cap that then existed.  When the current Tory/Liberal government increased the cap to £9,000 it was obvious to me that anyone who could get away with it would charge that fee, if not across the board then pretty damn close to it.

So, having allowed universities to charge up to £9,000 per annum, why is the government now complaining that institutions are planning to charge as much as they can?  It's a bit like saying to an MP "you have a £50,000 expenses allowance, but you must not claim all of it".  It's just not going to happen.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Real-life cinderella

I read in the Times today about the case of a real-life cindarella (because of the paywall I cannot link to the Times, so here is the Australian Telegraph's reporting of the story).

I don't know if the accusations are true or not.  But, sadly they are nothing I haven't come across a dozen times in case papers and in other newspapers in the past.

Sadly, the most unusual thing about these allegations from my experience is the lack of sexual abuse.

Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who has had a run in with social services over their children and has thought how terrible social workers all are for intruding in their lives.  But, when people act like this towards their own children I find myself asking whether social workers shouldn't be more intrusive!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Brilliant Royal Mail

Today I am mostly thinking how amazing our postal service is.

I have received a letter from a magistrates' court that has our name mis-spelt, gives the wrong street with no building number at all, lacks any mention of the city and has no post code on it.

Yet some how Royal Mail have managed to deliver it to us within a week of its being posted!