Family Law

It has been a while since my last post, but I have a good excuse! I have been working on my final modules, one of which was ‘Family Law’. I just wanted to write a brief post about this fascinating area of our legal system.

When I first considered studying an optional module in family law, it conjured images of divorce and child custody proceedings in my mind. However, while both of these topics are indeed fundamental aspects of family law, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of complex, yet fascinating, provisions concerning the ‘Elderly client’.

Elderly client is a term that some law firms may mention as an aspect of their service. While a very broad topic in itself, it mostly concerns the creation or alteration of wills and asset management for those worrying about their estate once they’re no longer around. I hadn’t considered it at the time, but now I realise that this is an absolutely essential area of family law. One way of viewing family law is that it deals with three key stages of life;

Firstly, it deals with children and their relationship with their parents. Secondly, it deals with the personal relationships that adults make, especially cohabiting couples, and married couples. (Trust law also comes into play here, when considering how the sole ownership of assets may be called into question between couples). Finally, it deals with the elderly, in a way that is considerably more ‘financial’ and technical than the other two key areas.

As a student who has studied equity and trust law (See previous post!), this provided a fascinating context for some of those provisions. Probate is the area where the law of equity, trusts, and family neatly overlap. While the provisions are a little too technical to go into details here, it was interesting to study the provisions of intestacy, wills, and asset management in a different context. In family law, you consider how these topics affect the elderly client in a context that most people can immediately relate to, whereas equity and trust law focused more on the very technical and often abstract effect of trust arrangements, complex wills, and the validity of relevant documents.

All things considered, I enjoyed studying family law. It is an area which stretches further than most immediately imagine, and also raises some fascinating discussions regarding the role of the state in modern society – however, I’ll save that discussion for another post!

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Equity and Trusts

Old book bindings at the Merton College Library - By Tom Murphy VII

The first few months of the year always mean the same thing for OU Law students, it’s time to get back into the studying mode, and frantically adjust to an entirely new area of law. It has been quite a while since my last post, which is perhaps thanks to my latest module and its demanding reading schedule!

W301 is the final compulsory law module, and it is a huge relief to see the end in sight. However, that isn’t to suggest that the last module is easier – In fact, it’s probably the hardest of all. It encompasses two of the most dreaded elements of the law degree, Land law and ‘Equity and Trusts’.

Equity in particular takes a lot of getting used to. We have spent four years being taught about the English legal system, so it’s quite a surprise when you learn that there is a second ‘type’ of law out there known as equity. You could think of it as a shadow to ‘normal’ law, filling in the areas that the law has forgotten – or is too rigid to deal with fairly.

With equity, you could say that the clue is in the name. It strives to do what is right and good for the parties, trying to reach the most just and ‘equitable’ outcome. It’s a type of law which comes into play mainly with trust arrangements and gifts. However, although it has incredibly noble purposes (by distorting and reducing the harshness of our legislation and case law), that doesn’t mean it’s easily accessible. In fact, some of the cases involving equitable principles are near-impossible to reconcile with others, and it is the only area where I’ve seen several cases which were actually incorrectly decided in hindsight!

Equity certainly represents a challenge, it is almost entirely foreign compared to our previous modules, yet somehow this is refreshing. It’s interesting to study the origins of equity, which actually leads you on a history lesson to medieval times, during the time of the Plantagenets! In a way, it is a fitting conclusion to the law programme, as it encompasses so much history and truly requires for you to utilise every skill and ability you have learned in the degree just to make sense of it all!

Don’t get me wrong though, as interesting as some parts are, this is an incredibly ‘dry’ course, with a lot of reading. However, the feeling of being so close to the end really helps inspire you onwards. As a topic, equity definitely has its highlights, so it’s not all bad news. Right, that’s enough for this post – time to get back to reading these course materials!

Qualifying as a Solicitor – No degree required?

Recently, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (The SRA) announced their intention to radically shake-up the qualification paths to becoming a Solicitor. The headline of these changes is the fact that, according to the proposals, it will no longer be required that prospective Solicitors actually have a degree in Law. Instead widening the potential scope of prospective Solicitors to include those with alternative, perhaps more practical and work-based qualifications, which are as of today undefined. It’s certainly a bold move from the SRA, who have been seeking to widen access to the legal profession for a considerable time. However, will this be a good idea?

Currently, to qualify as a Solicitor, you require either a Law degree (LLB), or the Graduate Diploma in Law – should you already have a degree in a different subject. This is known as the ‘academic stage’ -to demonstrate you possess a sufficient understanding of the legal system from an academic perspective. Following this, with either the LLB or GDL under your belt, you can then progress onto the Legal Practice Course. After this, you are officially ready to apply for a training contract, the completion of which would see you qualify as a Solicitor.

Under the new scheme, which is set to be enacted as of 2018, law firms could employ prospective Solicitors who do not have a law degree or GDL qualification, and instead employ them based on their experience and alternative practical legal qualifications. (According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, the BPP are already preparing an alternative legal apprenticeship course)

This appears to be a significant relaxation of the qualification stage, which is a bold departure from the current method which heavily regulates law degrees with regards to both course content and the time taken to complete the course. The new move would see the SRA take a hands-off approach to qualifications, allowing the individual law firms a greater degree of discretion in who they can employ.

According to the SRA statement released yesterday, the aim of this change is to encourage greater competition at the point of job applications, rather than at the point of university or LPC applications. If this could work in practice, it would be an interesting development by the SRA, possibly further enhancing the equal opportunities available for prospective Solicitors. However, it is well known that the graduate legal market is already flooded, with significantly more law graduates than training contracts available. Would enhancing the scope of prospective Solicitors not make the training contract situation infinitely worse?

Whatever opinion you may hold on the development, it will undoubtedly be a huge shake-up. The changes are poised to radically alter the landscape facing law students, and could see a new generation of students pursuing legal qualifications very different from the ones being studied today. While it has the potential to ultimately allow a greater overall quality of potential Solicitors and further level the landscape for those of all backgrounds, there will inevitably be fears regarding how this new method will be implemented. As of today, we simply do not know how the plans are shaping up. However, by 2014 the SRA have promised more details on the proposals, and hopefully then we will begin to get a greater perception of the changes, hopefully allowing for us to form a more reasoned and balanced judgement on them.  For now though, the future seems uncertain. I for one will certainly be keeping a close eye on the developments to see exactly what is happening and hopefully make some sense of the confusion.

Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Exam time!

Phew! Well, after what felt like an eternity of revision my W300 Contract and Tort exam finally arrived. After several (less than fun) hours, it was finally done! This was my third exam with the OU, and it’s safe to say it was probably the trickiest. So many little and intricate issues seemed to appear, which were wrapped within scenarios that were almost a full page of A4 long each!

However, it is done now, so all I can do is wait and see how I get on. There are a few weeks to wait for the results, so fingers crossed!

A great revision tip I personally found useful for contract and tort law was to ‘pair’ cases off in groups. So often it seemed that patterns would start to emerge where each topic has a few key cases, and often remembering one fact or principal would lead you to two cases. In contract law for instance, if you’re studying ‘agreement’ and need to remember the ‘postal rule’ for acceptance letters, two cases instantly spring to mind. Adams v. Lindsell defines the postal rule itself, while the Scottish case of Countess of Dunmore v. Alexander provides a potentially vital footnote – stating that the acceptance can be ‘revoked’ by a ‘speedier means’.

Anyway, rather than bore you with any more principles, I’ll end this post now! So that’s the tip I learnt from the endless hours of revising – to try and ‘pair’ or combine cases for each issue, hopefully it proves useful.

 

Revision

Published in: on October 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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W300

Well, it has been quite a while since the last update on here, so time for a little catch-up. I’m now studying for W300 with the OU, which is my first Level 3 law course. It’s scary to think, but after this module, I only have one law module left to complete for my degree.  It’s amazing how time flies!

W300 is actually a very interesting course, which focuses on two fundamental areas of the legal system; Contract and Tort.

Contract law is something we encounter on a daily basis, including every time we buy something from the shops or sell on eBay.  Every day we form contracts, although thankfully it’s very rare we need to rely on their terms! Contract law issues usually focus on one of four areas:

  • Was the contract itself formed correctly? – Is it a valid and enforceable contract?
  • Is there a disclaimer/term in the contract that can be relied on to avoid or enforce liability when something goes wrong?
  • What remedies can you get if someone breaches their contract with you?
  • What happens if the contract is misrepresented to you? – Or what if you were forced to agree?

These are the fundamental questions that form contract law, and in most situations, answering these questions will solve any given problem. So, with my exam in a few weeks, as you can imagine these are the issues I am trying to understand fully! Sadly for us W300 students, each of the above topics contains hundreds of cases and principles that could be called upon in any question… So revision will not be fun!

The second half of the course concerns Tort Law. A ‘tort’ is Latin for a ‘wrong’. So basically, tort is an umbrella term for a series of individual ‘torts’ which can occur between any two people, irrespective of whether they have any form of contract. These are the kind of situations when you are injured in a car crash, or when a neighbour starts causing trouble, or even if someone attacks you. All these are examples of torts, which if proven, can be taken to court to receive either compensation, or an injunction, or both.

The key torts covered in W300 are:

  • Negligence – The most important Tort, which is invoked when someone carelessly causes another person an injury or loss.
  • Trespass – The unlawful presence on someone’s property, or contact (such as an assault) with a person.
  • Nuisance – Interference with the peaceful enjoyment of land.
  • Occupiers Liability – The liability of the occupier or owner of property for any injuries inflicted caused by the state of the property.

So, as you can see, we have our work cut out for us! Thankfully though, these topics are genuinely interesting, and apply so easily to everyday life. Unlike some other areas of law which are more hypothetical, contract and tort are such everyday topics, it is so much easier to properly understand them – and to find the cases themselves quite interesting! (Well not all of them…)

W201 Exam

The moment you turn over the exam paper…

 

Well, I had my Criminal and Constitutional Law exam last week. It was a very tough paper, worse than a lot of us feared to be honest!  We had to answer four out of eight questions in three hours. Since we had to study such a variety of legal topics, knowing what to revise was quite tricky, and in the end there were only two topics that we could be certain would actually be on the paper! (They were Judicial Review and Property Offences)

In the Constitutional half of the exam, the questions set were about the ‘Rule of Law’ (A historic doctrine that is one of the cornerstones of democracy, law, and politics.), an essay about the ‘Royal Prerogative’ (The powers that the Monarch has), a ‘Judicial Review’ problem scenario, and a nightmare question about Human Rights and ‘PACE’.

Personally I was hoping for a question on Parliamentary Supremacy, since we’ve practically studied that for two years in a row, sadly though we were stuck with some less familiar areas!!

One good point about studying Law with the Open University is that the College of Law provide past papers for the previous three exams free of charge. Being able to see what to expect really does make a difference when revising, even if your exam does seem slightly harder!!
So, now we have just eight or so weeks to wait for the results, conveniently (Or inconveniently…) meaning we get our results at Christmas time… so lets just hope the OU are in a festive mood!

Published in: on October 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Interesting Legal Cases…

With my law exam just around the corner, I thought I’d just list a few of the more interesting cases I’ve come across this year. It really is amazing quite how many cases you come across for each area of law, especially with Criminal Law. Here are just a few of the cases that I really hope I will remember during my exam!!

R v. Woollin:

On paper, Murder seems a fairly simple offence to understand. Basically it requires the intentional killing of another human being. If someone accidentally kills another, then that could be charged as Manslaughter (There are five types of this). However, not that long ago, the courts had to consider the awkward situation of ‘indirect murder’. Here is an example, the defendant decides to get his revenge on someone, so places a bomb in their house – Intending  to damage just their property.  Now if someone dies here, the defendant originally could not have been guilty of murder – Why? – Because he didn’t intend death. Instead it would likely be charged as Constructive Manslaughter, a less serious offence. In the landmark case of Woollin, the court devised a simple test to establish the principle of ‘Indirect Intent’. If the Defendant foresaw death as a ‘virtual certainty’ to occur from his actions, yet proceeded to take that risk, he indirectly intended to kill the victim, even if it wasn’t his primary goal. It seems like such an obvious principle really! However it took this landmark case, which was only in 1999, to found one of the most important principles in Criminal Law, and close what was possibly one of the biggest loopholes in the English legal system.

R v. Blaue:

Another incredibly important Criminal Law case is R v. Blaue. This was a very tragic case involving a Jehovas Witness, who after being stabbed several times, refused life-saving medical treatment on religious grounds. The defence tried to argue that, due to the victim refusing a blood transfusion, the defendant can’t be guilty, as the victim would normally have survived with medical treatment. However, in a vital ruling which has safeguarded our rights to religious beliefs and personal choice, the court stated that; “Those who use violence on others must take their victim as they find them”.
This means that murder is murder, no matter who the victim. If someone has religious beliefs, or medical issues making them more likely to die, then that is the fault of the murderer. This incorporated the ‘Thin Skull Rule’ into Criminal Law, which is very similar to the internationally recognised ‘Eggshell Rule’ in Tort Law. So, the moral of this case is simple, every person is accounted for in the legal system, there are no health standards or religious requirements that make you any less protected by law.

Hill v. Baxter:

Now, it’s common sense that if you don’t actually consciously do anything, then you shouldn’t be criminally liable. In Law, this is known as Non-Insane Automatism. Basically this is a defence for situations where the defendant had an unfortunate spasm, uncontrollable motion, or concussion – which caused him to do something without realising it. (ie. While suffering from concussion, you accidentally trip someone over.) The case of Hill saw that definition extended slightly, to situations of blind panic. In this case, the court created a hypothetical situation. Here, the defendant is driving his car, when suddenly a swarm of bees fly in!! In a moment of panic, while trying to avoid getting stung, he drives dangerously. Although still dangerous driving, the presence of the bees in his car would ensure that the defendant is not liable, since he wasn’t able to properly control his motions. Therefore, thanks to the bizarre scenario created in Hill, the non-insane automatism defence became somewhat broader, allowing involuntary reactions to moments of panic as a defence to criminal offences.

A final point though about the ‘Non Insane Automatism’ defence. This only applies when the cause is completely external and nothing to do with the defendant. (Such as bees, or a concussion) However it defies all logic really, but Diabetic and Hypoglycaemic Comas and epileptic fits do not come under this defence, since they are caused by the human body itself. It seems quite disgraceful really, but the only defence to people in those situations is insanity! Hopefully this is resolved in the future, as personally I think it is crazy that something such as a pancreatic disease could be termed insane. As far as my course has suggested, this really is a controversial issue, so the legal stance will probably not remain like this for too long though.

So, those are a few of the legal cases I’ve encountered so far. There are so many to choose from though, these three represent a truly tiny proportion of the case law out there. I will definitely post a sequel to this in the future, as there are just so many fascinating topics to cover – So watch this space…

Revision Time… Again!

It’s that time of the year again for many Open University students – The dreaded exam season. As October gets worryingly close, now is the time we all have to perfect and tweak our revision strategies. While every course is different, every student has one thing in common, that is, we all dread those exams!

In my current law course, for example, the exam is three hours long, and consists of eight questions – Of which we have to answer four. So that’s about 45 minutes each. I know one exam per module doesn’t sound too bad, the pressure you have for it makes it very stressful. Unlike say, a GCSE, where you have three exams, a whole year’s work is riding on just three hours!

Every student has their own tactics for exam revision, however it’s always wise to keep an open mind for new techniques. Personally, I try to condense my notes as much as possible, again and again shrinking them. So ultimately trying to fit the key information from 30 pages of my law book down to a sheet of A4, then trying to shrink it even further down to a small notepad page.

Another technique I use is to try to incorporate concepts and phrases from legal areas into well-known songs. Last year I managed to re-write Iris, by the Goo Goo Dolls, to be about The Free Movement of Goods in EU Law. (Yes, seriously…)
I might try to get a list of songs together that could be re-written for Criminal Law areas. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!!

OUSA Conference 2012

Statue in the OU Campus.

This past weekend I’ve been attending the Open University Students Association’s conference as a delegate. Now happening once every two years, the OUSA conference provides a great way to meet fellow OU students and finally explore the university’s campus. It was a great weekend, and even the weather wasn’t too bad!

So, between the 22nd-24th of June 400 OU students all descended upon Milton Keynes, and many others took part via the online conference. There were three accommodation sites, the ‘Kents Hill Park’ conference centre, the Hilton Hotel, and the Doubletree hotel which, interestingly, overlooks the MK Dons football stadium!
The main events of the conference happened on Saturday, and from 9 AM onwards we gathered in ‘The Hub’ theatre to hear OU Director of Students, Will Swann’s address. Following this were the OUSA elections, where delegates voted on the candidates for OUSA leadership roles. As of roughly 1 PM we headed off to collect our Lunches and then were free to explore the campus and attend any workshops, lectures, or tours we wished. I headed off to the Law building, (Of course!) and got to explore the OU Law and Business school. Unfortunately at the moment it is currently office space for the large part, however as of next year the OU will be launching their LL.M, Law Masters Degree, which will give the building a much more ‘student feel’! After catching a quick shuttle bus back to the hotel for a quick break and dinner, it was time for the Disco!
Staged in the Kents Hill restaurant, the Disco was really enjoyable. There was a great atmosphere there and everyone was chatting to each other, which was brilliant considering most people didn’t know each other 24 hours earlier! There was some pretty good music on and most of us there were having a really good laugh, it was definitely a highlight of the conference! So then, with hardly enough time for everyone to sober-up, it was back out again on Sunday morning for breakfast, and then to the campus for some last-minute Conference activities!

 

Over the weekend I made lots of new friends and met so many interesting people! I’d just like to thank all the organizers, staff members and volunteers whose hard work made the entire event possible. It was great to be a part of the event, and to see how the OU, a university which is known for its distance, came together and saw students from all over Europe (And possibly beyond?) socializing and gathering to give the campus a real sense of community and a busy university feel for a weekend.

Outside of the cafe/dining area.

View from the OU Law and Business school.

Football and Pool Tables at the Kents Hill bar!

Vending Machine at the Kents Hill accommodation. It even sells Lynx!

Wills, and Unclaimed estates

It’s often a forgotten fact that, should someone die not having left a will, then their property is left intestate, and if an heir is not found, ultimately their main assets will be repossessed by the state. This is fairly crazy, all things considered, as a will requires very little effort. In fact, two of the most memorable cases I have encountered deal with a will written on the back of a postage stamp, whilst another was inscribed on a cracker!

Intestate estates and company assets are listed on the website http://www.bonavacantia.gov.uk. Here you will find extensive lists of ‘owner-less property’, that is in the possession of the crown, waiting for an heir to be found. It only takes a moment to search through the database, so it’s worth having a look to see if there are any assets that you’re entitled to.

Secondly, for historical estates, the government database on the justice.gov website lists many unclaimed estates dating back as far 1726! It’s an incredibly long shot, but maybe there is a 280 year old inheritance, literally with your name on it! Here’s the link to the search page: https://ubi.courtfunds.gov.uk/unclaimedbalancesindex/

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm  Comments (2)  
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