Friday, 28 September 2012

Hats off to Stewarts Law

The law firm, which has offices in London, Leeds, New York and Delaware, entered six teams in last Saturday’s London triathlon. The teams consisted of partners, associates, trainees and paralegals, as well as clients and their friends.

Photo courtesy of  Julian Chamberlayne
I applaud the firm's commitment to the triathlon not just because exercise is a good thing. What’s better yet is that all involved were raising money for Dan's Fund for Burns, a charity which provides burn survivors in the UK with ongoing support, resources and practical assistance with their recovery. The charity was established by Polly Miller (a former client of Stewarts Law) after her husband Dan, best friend and seven other friends were killed in the 2002 Bali bombing. Polly herself was badly burnt in the attack.

Polly's experience – which revealed that many burn victims receive virtually no support from health care professionals – led her to set up her admirable charity. Much though it does excellent work, the fact that the charity exists cannot but cast a spotlight on the NHS. The glare intensifies when we consider the Draft Care and Support Bill, published last July.

The Bill aims to create a single law for adult care and support, replacing more than a dozen different pieces of legislation. It will provide the legal framework for putting into action some of the main principles of the White Paper, entitled 'Caring for our future: reforming care and support'. So far, so sensible, but a close look reveals that the provisions of the Bill are wanting.

In an earlier blog, I objected to the Bill's idea that people may have to pay for care by selling their homes, an initiative which cannot but have serious consequences for their offspring and which seems to me to amount to a death tax, and may affect large numbers of seriously injured people.

The efforts of firms like Stewarts Law in last Saturday's London triathlon are to be praised for redressing the deficiencies in present social care system, but the Bill needs to tackle these deficiencies head on.  Here's hoping that there will be due consideration by the lawmakers of the plight of people such as one of Stewart's former clients. Having sustained serious burns injuries he became a double amputee, but he was able to cycle his recumbent bike in the triathlon. Well done to Julian Chamberlayne and Paul Paxton, the firm and all involved - and if you'd like to help out, its still not too late to make a donation by visiting:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Postcard from Berlin

Towards the end of last week I found myself rushing to catch a plane to Berlin. I duly checked in to The Westin Grand Hotel on Thursday evening, the reason for my visit being the 15th anniversary annual conference of PEOPIL.

PEOPIL is the Pan-European Organisation of Personal Injury Lawyers. The conference began at the Westin Grand on Thursday morning, which meant that I missed its first day, but there remained two days in which a number of topics dear to those who work in the PI sector were covered. They ranged from talks about the recovery of punitive damages in European courts and the use of medical experts to an excellent presentation on establishing jurisdiction by Philip Mead of Old Square Chambers.

However, rather than remark on the technical matters discussed at the conference, I hope regular readers will allow me to make a few general observations.

First, the power of Twitter was harnessed to great effect at the conference by no less a figure than Gerard McDermott QC. In between tweets wishing the Cambridges luck in their privacy action and commending the Times’ coverage of the UBS trial McDermott QC – a leading barrister at Nine St John Street and Outer  chambers – urged more PI barristers to attend conferences like PEOPIL (he observed that only himself and Philip Mead had made the trip) and noted a number of interesting points, for example concerning “conflicts between Hague Convention and Rome II regulation and opportunity for forum shopping”.

As well as updating followers on what was happening at PEOPIL, McDermott, who specialises in medical malpractice, product defects as well as catastrophic road traffic accident litigation, added a few snapshots of Berlin. We saw the Brandenburg Gate and also learnt that “The Westin Grand in Germany is a truly Grand hotel. Built by East Germans before unification. I think to show what they could achieve.”

Twitter-speak doesn’t allow for fulsome descriptions, but I can endorse what Gerard McDermott said about the Westin Grand. It’s a truly remarkable place, located in Berlin’s historic centre. It oozes atmosphere and has possibly the most efficient and friendly staff I’ve ever met. The Brandenburg Gate is nearby, so too many other historic locations – the Reichstag building, the Potsdamer Platz, the Gendarmenmarkt and Museum Island. Berlin’s transformation following reunification in 1990 means that the area is also full of elegant boutiques and designer shops.

I visited another nearby famous place – Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. While once a symbol of repression, Checkpoint Charlie is now a major tourist attraction, surrounded by souvenir stands selling all manner of tat (especially fake military items). I have to say that I wasn’t hugely impressed by this aspect – it reminded me a little of the anti-climax of visiting Land’s End – but it is nevertheless impossible not to be moved by even a fleeting visit to Berlin, replete as it is with so many landmarks of European history.

Towards the end of Saturday my visit came to an end. At Tegel Airport I experienced something unusual – German inefficiency. I managed to board my plane, which departed at 5pm, but I had cause to wish that the staff of the Westin Grand were working at the airport. The atmosphere verged on mayhem and I seriously doubted I’d get through security and make my flight, but back in Britain I was hardly consoled  by Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at QPR. By all accounts it was an even game, with my team playing effectively to secure a point. Here’s hoping that effectiveness makes for three points in the next game – and here’s to widening Gerard McDermott’s plea: it’s not just more barristers who should attend conferences like PEOPIL, it’s solicitors and everyone who cares about the future of PI law.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Dawn Makin’s case is absolutely tragic for the loss of the life of a young child, as well as the devastating subsequent impact on her life

It also puts the spotlight on serious data protection breaches in the personal injury sector.

A few weeks ago the tragic case of Dawn Makin hit the headlines. The former nurse killed  her four-year-old daughter, Chloe in February 2011 before seeking to take her own life. Dawn Makin herself is now wheelchair bound following the suicide attempt. She is now serving a 12-year sentence following conviction for the killing.

Cases in which a parent kills a child are always awful. How, we wonder, is it possible that any parent would ever do such a thing? Our hearts go out to the poor, innocent child.

The data protection breach background pales into insignificance by comparison. Dawn Makin was sacked for illegally accessing a computer at Moorgate Primary walk-in centre in Bury. Why did she do this? To pass on the confidential, medically sensitive and personal details of 29 road accident victims to her boyfriend Martin Campbell, who worked for a personal injury claims company and who has since pleaded guilty to data protection offences.  He and Dawn Makin split up but she, too, was due in court to on data protection charges after a number of patients quite properly complained to NHS Bury in May 2010. Consequently Dawn Makin lost her job.

Judge Anthony Russell, passing sentence, stated: “The facts of this case are appalling. The victim was a four-year-old child, someone who trusted you. This was a sustained attack. Chloe must have undergone significant and considerable physical and emotional suffering. Finally, the physical injuries you have caused to yourself which are permanent and the knowledge you have killed your only child will be with you for the rest of your life.”

We should also condemn, in the strongest fashion possible, the very existence of the culture that facilitated the actions of Martin Campbell.

If personal data protection rights were properly respected, and the law observed, there would have been no mileage in Martin Campbell seeking to persuade his partner to reveal confidential medical information. As it is, the regrettable truth is that, as you read this, someone, somewhere will be illicitly selling on personal data.

We must hope that cases such as Dawn Makin’s mark the absolute limit of the tragedy that can indirectly  flow from data protection breaches, and further hope it acts as a catalyst to an impetus to prevent continued and future breaches.