One of the most momentous appointments to Prime Minister Theresa May’s new cabinet was that of Elizabeth Truss as Justice Secretary and, by definition, Lord Chancellor. Ms Truss is the first woman to hold either post – a fact brought to the fore by the Lord Chief Justice. The judiciary is traditionally a male institution, despite strides made recently to address that fact, and the appointment brings with it both a message and a movement forwards.
Gone is the Liz Truss of DEFRA – lampooned for her enthusiasm for pork farming. The new Elizabeth Truss is a person of gravitas with responsibility for preserving this country’s tradition of justice for all.
• The MoJ is still bubbling with new processes and procedures. Following Jackson and LASPO, the introduction of fixed costs regimes and the furore over Legal Aid, there are proposals going forward for the establishment of an ‘online court’ for low-value monetary claims. The proposal, made in Lord Justice Briggs’s final report, is for a system akin to dispute resolution, with a judge making a determination. The Law Society, in its response to the Briggs report, placed its emphasis on the continuing role solicitors must continue to play in ‘helping clients navigate the new system and ensuring that they are able to access justice’.
• New technology is at the heart of the controversial proposals for the use of bulk powers for the collection of data, as outlined in the Investigatory Powers Bill. The Bill, now passing through the House of Lords, contains powers seen as crucial by the government to deal with crime and terrorism in the digital age. The extent and scope of the powers, however, have led to it being dubbed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. The Bill is very much the baby of PM Theresa May, who was instrumental in it being introduced while she was Home Secretary.
• One of the areas of crime the bulk powers proposed will be used for is in the detection and prosecution of money launderers. Dirty money is cleansed for a range of criminal activities, from the personal enrichment of felons to the underwriting of drugs deals and the financing of terrorist activity. Often these strands are interlinked.
No area of business is exempt from the attentions of money launderers, a fact emphasised by regular contributor to these pages Derek Williamson, a forensic accountant and expert witness. In an overview of the legislation he points out that firms could henceforth be held liable for the unscrupulous activities of employees if they cannot show that measures were put in place to prevent such behaviour. Solicitors are a prime target for such activity because of the large amounts of client money they hold.• The use of technology has also created a need for specialist expert witnesses, with forensic analysis of everything from mobile phone records to computer hard drives being used to aid both prosecution and defence. One of the most ubiquitous – and visible – devices for detecting and solving crime is CCTV. CCTV can do more than just identify perpetrators; careful analysis can determine the speed and direction of vehicles as well as the height and direction of movement of individuals.
To be of use, however, CCTV images must be of adequate quality. The Home Office has made available a kit to enable operators to assess the clarity of their images.• Charities have had a rough ride from the press recently, despite the increasing importance of the work they do as the state draws back its boundaries. Some of that important work forms the subject matter of the latest feature on legacy giving in this issue. All forms of charity work – from overseas development aid to medical research – relies on funding from legacies and solicitors form an important source of information for those contemplating leaving such a gift.