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Thursday, 28 April 2016

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Posted by Hari on Thursday, April 28, 2016 with No comments | Labels:

Legal aid cuts have led to surge in DIY defence, wasting time and costing more
A new report, Justice Denied, suggests that a combination of legal aid cuts, complex bureaucracy and inadequate support and information for defendants have led to a surge in people appearing in court without a lawyer. In one example given to the charity behind the report, Transform Justice, an unrepresented defendant remained silent during his appearance via video link from a police station. Only after he had been sent to prison did it emerge that he was deaf. According to the Magistrates Association survey, its members reported that 25% of defendants who came before them in 2014 were unrepresented. Of 143 responses, drawn largely from members of the legal profession, to a Transform Justice poll, 90% felt there had been an increase in unrepresented defendants in the courts over the last two years. Judges interviewed for the report agreed that unrepresented defendants considerably increased the time needed for hearings. Mark Fenhalls QC, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “There is increasing evidence from civil and criminal courts that restricting legal aid is counter-productive and has made the court system less efficient and more expensive. An unrepresented defendant in a criminal trial is like having an unqualified person performing surgery. The patient, our justice system, is bound to suffer and in the long run society will spend more money picking up the pieces.” GUARDIAN

TTIP secret courts: Unpublished UK Government report concluded it has 'lots of risk and no benefit'
The warning was disclosed in response to a Freedom of Information request by anti-TTIP campaigners Global Justice Now. Supporters of TTIP say it could boost the European and US economies by hundreds of billions of dollars by making it easier for companies on either side of the Atlantic to trade with one another. Opponents say the deal could give corporations the power to sue governments when they pass regulation that could hit firms' profits through these secret courts of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). United Nations figures show US companies have made billions of dollars by suing other governments nearly 130 times in the past 15 years under similar free-trade agreements. Details of the cases are often secret, but notorious precedents include tobacco giant Philip Morris suing Australia and Uruguay for putting health warnings on cigarette packets. "Ultimately, we conclude that an EU-US investment treaty that does contain ISDS is likely to have few or no benefits to the UK, while having meaningful economic and political costs," the report said. INDEPENDENT

Graduates paid 9% less than in 2006, say government figures
The latest official statistics show that the long ice age of wage stagnation is grinding on - and that graduate earnings have been in a deep freeze stretching back for the past decade. Graduates earn more on average than non-graduates and are much less likely to be unemployed. Postgraduates earn even more and those with higher grades of degrees are paid more than those with lower. But the big backdrop - so big that it's sometimes not seen - is the long-term flatlining in earnings. The latest graduate earnings figures track median salaries back to 2006. There was a slight upwards nudge between 2006 and 2008, for young and older graduates - and since then barely a flicker. What is really tough about these figures is that they are not real-terms numbers, taking into account inflation. These are salaries in cash terms. A young graduate in 2008 was typically earning about £24,000 and in 2015 a young graduate was still typically earning £24,000. Apart from the rising costs of bills and underlying inflation, think about the other extra factors hitting graduate finances. They will have £27,000 in tuition fee debt, not to mention sky-rocketing rent and property prices. More money is going out, without any more going in. Across the whole graduate population, there has been a similar glacial freeze in earnings. The typical salary of graduates in 2015 was £31,500, about £500 more than six years earlier. The Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has described this stagnation in earnings as unlike anything since the 1920s - with an estimated 9% real-terms drop in average earnings since the recession. This pay-rise drought stretches across the last years of the Labour administration and through the coalition and into the current government. The figures also reveal something of a qualifications arms race. Those with postgraduate degrees have the kind of benefits that once accrued to those with first degrees. They are likely to earn considerably more than either graduates or non-graduates and can be very confident of entering high-skilled careers. BBC NEWS

Boardroom pay system is not fit for purpose, says top investor group
The system for setting boardroom pay at the biggest companies on the London stock market is not fit for purpose and needs to be overhauled, according to an analysis for the Investment Association, a leading group of shareholders and companies. The review – chaired by Nigel Wilson, the chief executive of Legal & General – comes after executive pay has tripled over the past 18 years, a period in which the level of the FTSE 100 has barely changed. There is also an increasing disparity between executive pay and that of ordinary staff. The committee that led the review also included the chairman of Sainsbury’s, David Tyler, and Helena Morrissey, who chairs the association and runs Newton Investment Management. The report says: “Failure has sometimes been rewarded, and use of median comparators has driven disproportionate rises in executive remuneration. This is ultimately damaging to the listed company sector. At the same time, boards have sometimes outsourced remuneration to consultants, reducing accountability and creating unwanted outcomes.” GUARDIAN

Secret offshore owners of UK property may be forced into spotlight
Offshore companies buying UK property could be forced to reveal their ultimate owners under plans being considered by ministers to crack down on tax evasion and money laundering. The proposals would shine a spotlight on the foreign firms that hold billions of pounds in British property without having to declare who is behind them. It could also require foreign companies bidding for public sector contracts to do the same. David Cameron is already forcing all UK companies to reveal their ultimate owners under the new plans for a register of beneficial ownership from June, so the plans would bring foreign owners of British property into line with those rules. It comes after the Guardian and other global media organisations published the leaked Panama Papers from law firm Mossack Fonseca revealing how some of the world’s wealthy and powerful used offshore companies to hide their assets. The consultation document, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Property can provide a convenient vehicle for hiding the proceeds of crime. A recent study found that a quarter of solicitors’ firms surveyed had experienced clients attempting to use property transactions to launder money or commit fraud. GUARDIAN

How Philip Green's family made millions as value of BHS plummeted
When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in May 2000, he insisted it would not be rocket science to revive the ailing high street retailer. After paying £200m, he was convinced he had the skills to secure its future and make it the foundation of a sprawling retail empire. But last year, after failing in his mission, Green sold BHS for £1 to a little known group of investors who have steered it into collapse in just over 12 months. His dreams for the chain may have come to nothing, but Green’s family have still been big winners from BHS, taking out more than £580m in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans to help fund a lavish lifestyle. As the pensions regulator considers whether to pursue Green for between £200m and £300m – to help fill the black hole in BHS’s pension schemes that had developed since 2000 – he is awaiting delivery of his latest toy: a $150m (£100m) superyacht named Lionheart. The 90-metre vessel will join Green’s two other yachts, speedboat, helicopter and Gulfstream jet, which comes in handy for his weekly trips to and from Monaco to visit his family. Green and his wife Tina were listed as the UK’s 29th richest family in last weekend’s Sunday Times rich list, which estimated their worth as £3.22bn. That total excludes the £280m which researchers suggested Greens might have to hand over to the pensions regulator. Tina, who since 2004 has been the legal owner of BHS – and the Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins – is based in Monaco. The handover of BHS to Green’s wife was completed just before the family paid themselves £1.2bn in dividends from Arcadia in 2005, the biggest pay cheque in British corporate history, equivalent to four times the group’s then profits. GUARDIAN

London skyscraper rents rising faster than the rest of the world
The upmarket estate agent Knight Frank said the cost of renting in office towers such as the Shard, Walkie Talkie and Cheesegrater rose 9.7% to $126 (£87.50) per square foot in the second half of 2015 from the previous six months and by 21.4% from a year earlier. London rents rose twice as fast as those in San Francisco, at 4.76%, and three times quicker than in Hong Kong and Mumbai, where rents went up by 3%. The 21-city skyscraper index compared the rental performance of commercial buildings of more than 30 storeys across the world against the first half of 2015. The UK capital also topped the table between January and June 2015, with an 11% rise in rents. The skyscraper index shows that Hong Kong remains the most expensive place to rent in the world – the average rent is more than twice as high as in London, at $263.25 per sq ft per year. New York remains in second place at $155, followed by Tokyo at $128.75 and London at $126. Until about 10 years ago, there were few skyscrapers in London. Between the NatWest tower in 1979 and the Gherkin in 2003, not a single one was built in the City. But now there are 436 buildings above 20 storeys in the pipeline across London. The high-rise boom has provoked controversy over its impact on the skyline, while residents and businesses are concerned about wind tunnels and a lack of light. Bruce Dear, the head of London real estate at Eversheds, said: “There is a floating city above London in the Canary Wharf and City tower clusters. Space in these towers is scarce and high status, like high-rise white truffles. So the towers rental market obeys different laws to the rents of ground dwellers. Ultimately, scarcity is allowing these towers to defy the slowing global economy.” GUARDIAN

Asda shamed by UK competition authority over promotions - but watchdog admits it cannot ban dodgy special offers
In a bid to stamp out 'confusing and misleading' special offers, Asda has agreed to stop advertising 'now' prices for longer than the 'was' price was applied and ensure multi-buy offers represent better value than a single product before the offer. But while this may seem like progress, the Competition & Markets Authority stressed it 'has no intention (nor is it empowered) to "ban" particular types of special offers, such as multi-buy promotions'. The CMA’s response follows a 'super complaint' lodged by consumer group Which? in April last year, accusing supermarkets of using 'misleading' pricing tactics, including confusing multi-buy offers and shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding price reductions. The CMA reported last July that it had found that supermarkets were misleading customers with confusing pricing promotions that could be against the law. Examples include: Hovis Medium Sliced Soft White Bread (800g), which was sold at “£1 (was £1.20)” even though the price before the offer started was £1, and the product had not been sold at £1.20 for 116 days; Asda increased the regular price of Uncle Ben's rice from £1 to £1.58 as it went onto a '2 for £3' multi-buy, then returned it to £1 when the multi-buy ended - making it 50p more expensive per pack (2013); Online grocer Ocado increased the price of Waitrose blueberries to £3.99 for a week, before selling them on offer at £2.66 for over a month (2013); Tesco sold Flash All Purpose Cleaning Spray on offer for £1 for 47 days but it had only been at the higher price of £2 for 17 days (2013). Which? found that around 40 per cent of groceries in the UK are sold on promotion. DAILY MAIL

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