Category: News

Ministry of Justice Gets Huge Fine for “Serious” Data Protection Failings

The Ministry of Justice has been issued with a civil penalty of £180,000 by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) after what were described as “serious failings.” The failings in question led to 75 prisons around the country storing sensitive data in a way which fell far short of the required security levels.

This is not the first time the Ministry of Justice has faced penalties for poor data protection practices. In October 2013, they were issued with a fine that was almost as large (£140,000) following another serious failure to keep sensitive information safe. In this incident, details of all the inmates at a prison, totalling more than 1,000 individuals, were accidentally and repeatedly emailed to the families of three of the inmates.

The latest fine is one of the largest penalties that has ever had to be paid by a department of the government. The failings which led to the fine were uncovered after an investigation by the ICO into the data protection practices of the prison service in England and Wales.

The mistake occurred in May 2012 when prisons were issued with new hard drives for back-up storage of important data. These hard drives were equipped with advanced encryption to protect the data from falling into the wrong hands and to keep it safe from hackers. However, the prisons were not properly instructed in how to use these hard drives. Specifically, they were not told that the encryption function had to be turned on by the end user (in this case the individual prison). Instead, many believed that the encryption was an innate function of the hard drives and did not need to be activated.

The result was that data was held for more than a year without encryption by 75 prisons in England and Wales. In May 2013, while this problem was still in effect, a hard drive containing unencrypted data of nearly 3,000 prisoners was lost. Some of the prisoners in question had links to organised criminal gangs, making the loss of their data particularly concerning. All of this data was unencrypted and vulnerable.

This issue stemmed directly from an earlier data protection issue on the part of the prison service. The new, encrypted hard drives were originally introduce in response to an earlier incident when the prison service lost data relating to around 16,000 prison inmates throughout the country.

The ICO’s head of enforcement, Stephen Echersley, said: “The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them, how to use it, beggars belief.”

Following the ruling, the ICO released a blog clarifying the importance of encryption to data protection.

Corrupt Legal Professionals Face Crackdown

HandcuffsSolicitors and other members of the legal profession who work with criminal gangs to help them in their activities could face imprisonment of up to five years under new proposals from the Home Office. These proposals form part of the Serious Crimes Bill, announced today in the Queen’s Speech.

The bill also includes other provisions to facilitate a crackdown on organised crime. These include enhanced abilities for the seizure of criminal assets and the closure of loopholes that previously allowed some criminals to keep what they had gained from illegal activities.

In order to be prosecuted under the new bill, specifically under the offence of “participation in an organised crime group,” it will have to be established by prosecutors that a defendant had “reasonable grounds to suspect” that their activities were aiding criminals and facilitating crime.

The Home Office claimed that some lawyers, along with other professionals such as accountants, are wilfully assisting criminals by deliberately failing to ask questions about why their services are needed, and then later claiming ignorance of any criminal activity. Karen Bradley, a Home Office Minister, welcomed the proposals. She said that “Nobody is above the law. But for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.” She went on to suggest that the new law would [send] out a clear message” to professionals who were “helping to oil the wheels of organised crime.”

However, many voices within the legal industry have spoken out in opposition to the proposals. These include president of the Law Society Nicholas Fluck. While stressing that he had “no sympathy” for solicitors who aided criminals, Fluck said that it was questionable whether the laws would make any real difference given the regulatory and statutory obligations that solicitors are already under. He also said that the issue of criminal intent had to be looked at carefully. Requiring defendants to prove they did not have “reasonable grounds to suspect” that they were facilitating crime might result in a reversal of the burden of proof.

Richard Atkinson, chairman of the criminal law committee of the Law Society, joined Fluck in criticising the law. Atkinson asked whether the government may be “seeking to impose on lawyers and other professionals a duty to enquire into the workings of their clients.”

Illegal for Police to Delete Photos of Abuse Victim From Paedophile’s Computer?

Dorset Police are refusing to delete photos from the computer of a paedophile that show the girl he abused in swimwear and leotards. The police claim that, as the photos are neither prohibited nor classed as indecent under UK law, it would be unlawful for them to be deleted.

The offender in question, a man in his 50s, was jailed last year following his admission to a number of offenses. These included sexual assault of a child aged under 13. He was sentenced to a prison sentence of nine years. The man cannot be named for the same of his victim’s privacy.

He has now made a formal request that his mobile and laptop are returned to him. Officers are indeed required to return this property according to the legislation under which it was seized. However, the PC still contains photographs of the girl he abused, many of which show her in swimwear or in leotards, which the  police claim they have no power to delete.

The mother of the victim said that she was “appalled that the man who abused my child can ask the police to hand over our family photos for him to keep for the rest of his life.”

She went on to say: “My daughters struggle every day with the devastating consequences of his abuse and this will only make them feel more humiliated and degraded. Why should we continue to be traumatised further?”

As the photos are not illegal or technically indecent, the police claim they have no legal power to delete them from the offender’s personal computer. However, human rights organisation Liberty disagrees with this view of the law. They claim that returning the devices with the photographs left in place would  breach two separate articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Articles three of the Convention affords protection against inhumane treatment, while article eight deals with the issue of invasion of privacy. According to Liberty, in a letter written to Dorset Police, returning such intimate photos of the girls to the man who abused them for him to keep indefinitely would violate the Convention on both counts. Not only would it “[cause] the girls a significant amount of distress,” but would also represent “an enormous violation of their dignity and personal integrity.”

However, Dorset Police maintain that their options are limited. Martin Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, has insisted that the police are not to blame for the fact and that he will lobby for a reform to the relevant legislation.

“Think of the trauma this causes to the victims,” Underhill said. “And think of the control and power this gives the abuser.”

Legal Aid Challenges Rejected by High Court

Legal aid cuts have been an extremely contentious topic within the legal industry for some time now. The high court has now rejected a challenge to the justice secretary’s cuts to legal aid available to prisoners.

The high court has decided that, even if prisoners “suffer serious adverse effects,” the issue of cuts is ultimately a political one. As such, an appeal against the justice secretary’s decision, which came from both the Prisoners’ Advice Service and the Howard League for Penal Reform, has been rejected. The judges decided that they were not able to reverse the decision, which was down to the judgement of justice secretary and lord chancellor Chris Grayling.

The cuts form part of Grayling’s efforts to save a total of £220 million annually from the criminal legal aid budget. Most of the cuts that have been proposed as part of these efforts have been controversial in one way or another. Lawyers have questioned whether they are the most effective cost-saving measures and protested at the harm they could do to the availability of justice in the UK. This has led legal professionals to take protest action such as walkouts.



Both of the charities who raised the challenge have expressed an intention to appeal against the decision. According to the arguments put forward by their lawyers at the challenge’s hearing, the cuts would not only harm the rights of prisoners but also their prospects for rehabilitation. The changes were also called “unfair, irrational and inflexible.” Furthermore, it was suggested that they would lead to “hidden costs” which would ultimately place a burden of millions on the taxpayer, making them counterproductive as a money[saving measure.

According to Phillippa Kaufmann QC, representing the charities, the result of the cuts would be “huge unfairness.” She said that female prisoners would find themselves unable to gain assistance when their eligibility for places in mother-and-baby units was being reviewed, for example. She also suggested that prisoners under close supervision, being segregated, or facing resettlement issues upon release might find it difficult or impossible to get the advice and assistance they need under the new system.

However, James Eadie QC disagreed. Representing the justice secretary, he claimed that many of the arguments made opposing the changes had been reviewed by parliament already. Ultimately, he claimed, the changes were approves in light of a situation that called for “financial stringency in the legal aid system because of scarce resources.”

Turkish Judiciary now Under Government Control

Recep Tayyip ErdoganTurkey’s judiciary, which was previously independent of the government, has now been placed directly under the control of government ministers. The ruling party has defended the move as part of a crackdown following accusations that a group of lawyers planned to overthrow the current government. However, the opposition has been critical of the new legislation, describing it as “a modern coup d’etat.”

The lawyers in question allegedly plotted against the government, under the cover of investigating a corruption scandal. The corruption investigation in question involved several prominent businessmen and the sons of former government ministers.

Off the back of these allegations Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s Prime Minister for the past 11 years, introduced legislation that placed the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, the country’s premier judicial institution, under direct government control. As a result, the government can now appoint or dismiss judges and prosecutors, and enforce their decisions on the Supreme Council. Erdogan said that this was a necessary measure in countering threats to the government – an idea which the opposition question.

Many prosecutors and judges have now been dismissed by the government in connection with the allegations since the new powers took effect. The total number of dismissals reportedly reaches into the hundreds.

The move to place what was an independent judicial system under the direct control of the government has drawn widespread criticism both within Turkey and elsewhere across the world. The country’s opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, said that it granted “exceptional authority” to the justice minister. The Republican People’s Party’s Deputy Chair, Faruk Logoglu, accused the government of intending the legislation to “transform the Turkish state” into one that was undemographic and compared the result to a sultanate. He said that placing such power into the hands of the justice minister was simply “wrong.”

The human rights committee of the Law Society has also spoken out against the legislation. They have criticised the government’s introduction of this legislation, saying that it hinders free speech and challenges the Turkish judicial system’s independence. The committee’s chair, Professor Sara Chandler, said that ” The legislation passed earlier this week, to bring the country’s top judicial body under justice ministry influence, is unconstitutional and undermines the judiciary’s independence.”

Professor Chandler went on to say: “The Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors is responsible for appointing members of the judiciary, is an independent body and should remain so.”


How Insurance Companies try to Block Accident Claims

Most people who have been injured as a result of somebody else’s error are entitled to make accident claims against the negligent person or company. However, the actual expense of paying the settlement will often fall to an insurance company. In line with their reputation for being loathe to part with money even when a policy requires it, insurers have recently come under fire for using a number of tactics to try and falsely block accident claims. There are concerns that, at present, there are few legal repercussions or none at all for insurance companies caught deceiving victims in order to block a claim.

In order to avoid these sorts of tactics, it is important to always seek expert advice when making an accident compensation claim.

Exaggerating the Blame

Sometimes, the victim of an accident will be partly to blame themselves. In this case, they will still be entitled to make a claim against the negligent party, but the value of their claim will be reduced to reflect the fact that part of the blame was their own. For instance, if the person was in an accident that somebody else caused but did not take proper safety precautions themself, part of the blame will belong to them and part to the person who caused the accident.

Insurance companies have often been accused of exaggerating the level of blame that belongs to the victim in these cases. Generally, this involves offering an out-of-court settlement that is much lower than their true entitlement. They then falsely lead the victim to believe that this is all they can expect because of their own part in the blame.

Creating a Rush

Insurance companies have also been found to have deliberately rushed accident claims with the express intention of giving the victim less time to build the necessary case. Putting things into a rush reduces the time available for seeking advice and gathering evidence, making it more likely the victim will lose the claim and the insurer will not have to pay.

Furthermore, some insurance companies are reported to have actively discouraged victims from gathering evidence. Normally, this is done by deceptively claiming that gathering the evidence will create a delay. They then add the claim – an outright lie – that this delay will lower the amount of compensation the victim will receive, falsely leading the injured party to believe that gathering evidence is not in their best interest and weakening their case.

Eighth of Separated Fathers Have no Contact With Children

DivorceAccording to recent research from the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), around an eighth of separated or divorced fathers do not have any contact with their children. More specifically, this applies to around 13% of such fathers throughout the UK.

NatCen have published this study annually since they were first founded in 1983. It draws on data gathered through the “British Social Attitudes Survey,” and aims to examine life for Britain’s families and the way it changes with each passing year. This year’s survey highlighted the fact that almost a million British fathers have children who they do not live with, and 13% of those do not have any contact with them at all.

According to claims from The Centre for Social Injustice, parts of the UK have become “men deserts” with entire neighbourhoods full of families that lack father figures. Furthermore, the Centre for Social Injustice described a “tsunami of family breakdown” as being responsible for the number of children left without a father.

There seem to be a number of reasons that fathers lose contact with their children after a relationship comes to an end. One such factor seems to be fathers entering into new serious relationships. According to the NatCen report, only 69% of fathers maintained contact with their children when entering into a new relationship. This compares to 86% of fathers who do not enter into a serious new relationship.

According to Eloise Pool, a Natcen Spokesperson, financial problems are also a factor. According to Pool, “Some fathers simply don’t have the financial resources, or spare bedrooms, to be able to maintain regular contact with their children.”

This compounds existing concerns over the effect of rising divorce rates on children. Another recent report, this time from the Marriage Foundation, suggests that 50% of infants in the UK at present can expect their parents to divorce by the time they are 15. This is based on an estimate drawn from current divorce rates and analysis of trends.

However, the government hope that recent reforms to the legal process surrounding divorce will help tackle these concerns. Earlier this year, a new Child Maintenance Service was introduced. This is primarily aimed at making the divorce process easier and more amicable rather than preventing separations. However, it is hoped that this will lessen animosity between separated parents, which could contribute to more ongoing contact between fathers and children. It is also hoped that it will lead to more optimised financial arrangements, helping tackle the factor of money pressures.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Recently, in a land better known for cricket, beaches and beer, rather than Washington DC-esque politics, political manoeuvrings resulted in the resignation of their leader. In Australia, Kevin Rudd recently toppled Julia Gilliard in a successful parliamentary leadership coup- three years after she had done that to him. Politics is not totally devoid of irony, as Mr. Rudd returns to the PM’s residence, this time with his work cut out for him, but still riding on his former popularity.



Given that the Labor Party he now leads is facing an election soon, the timing is not great. However, it is the result of endemic power struggles which often appear in democracies where there is opportunity and struggles for the top jobs, as they are chosen by either party or people. As Ms. Gilliard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister and a divisive figure, steps out of the limelight (but for how long?), she can be comforted in the knowledge she is not the first democratic leader to fall in such a way.


As the Berlin Wall fell, and the USSR collapsed rapidly, Mikhail Gorbachev was pursuing policies of perestroika, glastnost and greater openness with the West.  Amidst the power vacuum as the old USSR collapsed, a Siberian gained in popularity and power. Whilst standing up for the government during the 1991 coup, and supporting Gorbachev vocally from a tank turret, Boris Yeltsin had other plans; the presidency. After the rapid events in Russia in 1991, Yeltsin became the first President of the Russian Federation before Christmas, having effectively toppled Gorbachev.


For Russia, though, outside forces and international issues played a part in Gorbachev’s fall; if Russia had not been in chaos, and if the economy had been better, it is likely that Gorbachev could have seen off Yeltsin. Ms. Gilliard can draw comfort from the fact that even a great elder statesman like Gorbachev is not immune from the same plotting that was her downfall.


More recently, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has successfully seen of threats to his power since elected in 2006. There have been not leadership challenges per se but moves to undermine his power base, to challenge him in motions of no confidence, and other political moves to force him out of 24 West Sussex Drive (the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence) . Indeed, since 2006, there have been several elections, mostly triggered by political events rather than a government seeking re-election after their term of office. Although quite unpopular in Canada, Harper has been returned to power each time.


A calculating political machine, seemingly more concerned with his own power base and Ottawa politics rather than Canadian interests domestically or internationally, he is still in power despite numerous political episodes.  Most notably, in 2008, debates over the Budget deteriorated so much that the subsequent chain of events made Mr. Harper, put then Governor General Michaelle Jean in a very tricky constitutional situation concerning proroguing Parliament, over December 2008 and January 2009. Luckily, the situation was resolved- but in avoiding a motion of no confidence over his party’s budget, Mr. Harper nearly triggered a constitutional crisis.


Given Mr. Harper’s impressive track record in nimbly avoiding such challenges, Ms. Gilliard could learn from him.


More domestically, the Conservative Party here in the UK are no stranger to leadership challenges. Margaret Thatcher was removed aver 11 years not by people but by a successful leadership challenge using rarely- used party rules and procedures that placed a (relative) newcomer in No.10.


Subsequent party leaders have had to watch their backbenchers as keenly as the opposition benches, as leaders have come and gone quite frequently due to dissent, opposition and political manoeuvrings from their own party.  At least Ms. Gilliard only had one main and expected opponent, instead of potential challengers appearing out of nowhere in her party. However, it only takes one main challenger or opponent to cause your political downfall – as Tony Blair found to his cost with Gordon Brown.


Although out of Australian politics for now, it would not be surprising if Ms. Gilliard made a comeback to the political arena at some stage, and ended up in a subsequent Cabinet or as Prime Minister again. It is not unlikely; but if she pulls it off, many Western democratically elected leaders will be watching and learning intently from her.


In the meantime, Kevin Rudd returns as Prime Minister in time to face an election. It just goes to show, that sometimes in a democracy the greatest threat to your power base is not the will, vote or voice of the people, nor a free press or an independent judiciary, not the opposition parties – but rather the people sitting on the same parliamentary benches just behind you, supporting you with their voice, but plotting against you with their minds.


Democratic leaders should bear in mind the old wisdom to ‘keep your friends close- but your enemies closer’- for unintentionally, that is what they actually do.


Guest Post contribution from: The Law Ninja.

David Cameron on European Union Referendum

In a speech directed at Britain and its future membership of the European Union, David Cameron said he would hold a referendum if he wins the next election. The speech given on Wednesday has had a mixed reception.

Cameron has again stated that Britain must hold a national referendum on whether the public want to stay in Europe, moving a lot closer to mentioning a date, saying using the mandate of the 2015 election he will go ahead with a referendum, this will appease some Conservative MPs and Euro-sceptics. Cameron believes that in the next couple of years that the EU “must agree on treaty change” to in fact to make the “changes needed for the long term future of the European Union”. Labour and the Liberal Democrats believe that gambling the UK membership of the European Union was against national and economic interest.

The House of Commons is likely to debate this in the coming days. Labour is saying that they could accept a referendum, but “not at the moment”.

Germany and France, two of the strongest economies in the European Union, also criticized the UK as taking an “a la carte” approach. Germany in particular asking for compromise from Britain, its Chancellor Angela Merkel asking for the UK to find “common ground” as she believes it is in their best interest for their economies to pick up. The United States also said they believe Britain is “stronger” because of the European Union membership.