Honesty is the Best Policy!

There has been much commotion in the media within the last 24 hours after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to allow the appeals of two wives who successfully appealed against their existing matrimonial financial settlements on the grounds of fraud by their soon to be ex-spouses. In their lawyer’s words “these cases were about a matter of principle and justice” and “the issues raised will have implications in many other cases”.

 

When most people think about justice they also think about truth and honesty and when dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce these principles are enshrined in a spouse’s duty to the court to make full and frank disclosure of their finances.

 

In these two appeal cases the husbands’ dishonesty in relation to their financial disclosure amounted to fraudulent misrepresentation which the Supreme Court agreed should pave the way for new proceedings to ascertain whether or not their wives have been short-changed.

 

The ruling has emphasised the importance of spouses being transparent about their respective financial positions all throughout proceedings and some commentators have stated there is a real prospect of ex-spouses dragging their former spouses into court to have another bite of the cherry by seeking to unravel all that was agreed. The so called ‘unravelling effect’ will have an impact on people’s ability to plan ahead financially, place extensive demands on their time and further loosen their purse strings to cover the additional legal fees to deal with the subsequent appeal proceedings and the costs of what is likely to be a forensic re-examination and renegotiation of the existing financial settlement if it is found to be predicated on fraud.

 

Unfortunately, much commentary in social media and the blogosphere has spiralled into a false debate focussing on the gender politics and how successful and savvy businessmen should be allowed to accumulate their fortune in isolation so when it comes to divorce payouts it is unpalatable that a wife who hasn’t been directly involved in the accumulation of that wealth should be entitled to kick up a fuss and lay claim to fair proportion of it. That is unhelpful. The real debate is whether it is acceptable for a husband or a wife to mislead their spouse as to their financial situation on the breakdown of their marriage given that the most senior judges in England and Wales have overwhelmingly agreed that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not go unchecked.

 

Regrettably there will always be people who seek to conceal the extent of their wealth and they may choose to run the risk of doing so but this landmark ruling confirms that we do have a judiciary that is willing to stand up for honesty so those persons looking to deceive should be under no illusion that what they are doing is not only dishonest but unlawful and the court will entertain appeals by unimpressed spouses to set aside the existing financial arrangements to enable the parties to reassess based on a proper representation of the finances.

 

Whoever you are you have been warned – “Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive” – Sir Walter Scott.

In the Breeze & Wyles family department we specialise in all aspects of the matrimonial breakdown and can help you through the process from start to finish.


Today is the day for new Consumer Laws

Businesses have until 1st October to get ready for new consumer rights and dispute resolution procedures

Consumers have new rights from October, including a 30-day period to claim a full refund on faulty goods and, for the first time, protections on digital content purchases.  They can also challenge unfair or hidden trading terms.  

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 consolidates eight pieces of separate legislation in this area and whilst most of the changes are updates to existing laws, there are some important new areas covered.

For businesses, it means processes and trading terms must be updated to match the new legislation, as well as ensuring staff are fully briefed.  Alongside, there are also new requirements on businesses to prepare for consumer dispute resolution.

Under the Act:

  • The new law sees the introduction of rules around what happens where services are not provided with reasonable care and skill, or as they were agreed.  In such cases, consumers can now demand that sub-standard services are re-done or receive a price reduction
  • A 30-day time period to return faulty goods and get a full refund – until now, the law has been unclear on how long is a “reasonable” period for goods to be rejected
  • After one failed repair, or after one replacement which has also failed, consumers can demand their money back, in full, during the first six months, rather than having to agree to repeated attempts to get a repair done
  • Any unfair or hidden terms can be challenged by consumers
  • New rights for consumers for a repair or a replacement of faulty digital content such as online film, games, music downloads and e-books.

Businesses have until 1st October to educate staff about the changes the new legislation brings, although some of the rights introduced by the Act came into force earlier in the year.  These covered publication of fee tariffs by letting agents and requirements on ticket resellers.

The aim of the new Act is to reduce disagreement and court action, but where a dispute cannot be resolved directly between the supplier and consumer, the Government is hoping that dispute resolution, which uses techniques such as mediation or arbitration, will provide a quicker and cheaper route than the courts.   From October, traders will have to provide the consumer with a route to Alternative Dispute Resolution through a certified scheme, which could be through their relevant trade body or similar organisation, if they cannot resolve the dispute directly.

Maria Koureas-Jones Director and Head of Business Services said:  “There are a number of changes and any business selling to consumers will need to be prepared.  It’s important that terms and conditions are reviewed and updated as necessary. In future, these must be prominent and transparent, if traders want to avoid finding themselves being assessed for fairness.  So, if you have hugely detailed small print that no one could possibly read, it’s worth seeing whether you can reduce this, or at the very least making sure that there’s nothing hidden in there that the consumer should know about up-front.

“It’s very important that staff are fully briefed on the extent of the new law as there are a number of far-reaching implications.   For example, where a consumer specifies a purpose when buying and is advised by a member of staff, it’s important that the goods or services are going to be suitable for that purpose; otherwise if it fails to deliver, they have a right to claim their money back.”

She added:  “For suppliers of digital content, it’s important that traders ensure they are complying with the aspects of the new legislation that specifically relate to them.  In the past the law has been unclear in this area, as it failed to keep up with the huge growth and demand for digital products.”

ENDS

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/contents

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/notes/division/1

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consumer-rights-act-2015/consumer-rights-act-2015

http://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/goods/the-sale-and-supply-of-goods-from-1-october-2015

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/alternative-dispute-resolution-for-consumers/alternative-dispute-resolution-for-consumers

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/citizens-advice-consumer-work/the-consumer-rights-act-2015/

 


Courts move towards higher tariffs on health and safety breaches

Two high profile health and safety court rulings have caught the headlines this month, but the penalties imposed reflect the expected shift towards higher tariffs and businesses need to sit up and take notice say experts.  

First, fashion retailer Hugo Boss UK Limited was fined £1.2 million with costs of nearly £47,000 following a prosecution relating to a fatal incident at one of the brand’s outlets in June 2013, when a small child died after a free-standing mirror fell on him.

Then, Oscar's Wine Bar in South Yorkshire was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 in costs after a barman gave a potentially lethal liquid nitrogen cocktail to a teenage girl, resulting in her having her stomach removed.

Under the existing 2010 sentencing guidelines, concerns have been expressed around the inexperience and inconsistency of magistrates and judges leading to fines being imposed that are too low relative to the harm caused, culpability and means.   As a result, following recent consultation, it’s expected that the Sentencing Council will soon publish guidelines that take account of these factors.

Courts would first consider harm and culpability factors so as to categorise the seriousness of the offence. This would be put together with the financial standing of the company, with organisations banded from micro to large, to produce a predicted compensation figure.

Said Brendan O’Brien Company expert with Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Limited: “These are both tragic cases, for which no amount of compensation could replace the loss of life or health, but the level of fine is much higher than generally seen in the past, and it seems that the courts are acting in the spirit and ethos of the expected new guidelines, even though nothing has been published yet.”

He added: “Businesses need to sit up and take notice.  No one wants to be responsible for such accidents, and the best way to avoid that is by making sure that health and safety systems are not just in place, but properly managed and regularly reviewed.  Employees need to have safety at the forefront of their daily activities, and be aware of how it helps to protect both fellow workers and customers.

“If the employee manual and employment contracts aren’t clear, then now is the time to review them. Having really robust health and safety policies, regularly reviewed and properly carried out in practice, will go a long way towards providing a defence against any criminal liability, and may provide a defence or at least mitigation against a negligence claim.”

ENDS

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/about-us/our-work/health-and-safety-offences-corporate-manslaughter-and-food-safety-and-hygiene-offences/

http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/web__guideline_on_corporate_manslaughter_accessible.pdf

 

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/sentencing-council/health-and-safety-offences-guidelines/supporting_documents/healthandsafetyoffencesconsultationguideline.pdf

 

 


Cakes go down a Breeze for Macmillan!

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25th September saw once again the biggest coffee morning for Macmillan Cancer Support over the country. Breeze & Wyles Solicitors certainly contributed their share, but with a twist. Not only were they there for the morning, they were going until all their cakes were sold!

With homemade cakes, balloons, hot and cold drinks on offer, they launched their first BWCommunities event with style and raised just over £900 for the charity. The BWCommunities events seek to support charitable causes of concern to people in and around our offices at Stortford, Hertford and Enfield.

Utilising the grass outside their office on Church Street, the sunshine helped people enjoy the tables and chairs provided resulting in a buzz of activity with people changing their plans for the day in support of this good cause.

A spokesperson for the firm of solicitors stated “A real community spirit was created here today, with special thanks going to Papa Delli’s who helped us out with more disposable coffee cups when needed and to Metaswitch, who allowed us to go round their offices at the end of the day to sell off the remaining cakes.”

The Directors at Breeze & Wyles have agreed to add funds to double the amount raised for Macmillan and wish to thank everyone in Enfield who contributed to the day. Plans are underway for their next Charity event and they hope to raise similar amounts for other great causes in the future.

Brendan O'Brien Managing Director at Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Limited said: "Thanks to all of the staff who contributed to making the day a great success. this included people from other offices who baked cakes. The efforts of the staff reinforce the drive of Breeze & Wyles to be at the heart of the communities that we serve."