A good day for husbands and wives

wills and trusts

What happens to your money when you die without a Will?

For the past nine decades the answer, at least in the UK, hasn’t varied significantly. But today that changes.

Today, the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill comes into force, the first major change to British inheritance law since 1925. From now on, if a married person with no children dies without a Will, their surviving spouse or civil partner will inherit everything. When someone dies without a Will and leaves a spouse and children, their surviving partner will receive a Statutory Legacy of £250,000 and half of their estate, with the children sharing the rest in a trust until they turn eighteen.

I doubt that too many people saying “I do” in recent weeks had this thought uppermost in their minds, but any change in the law affecting how our loved ones are provided for is bound to impact on our lives.

It emphasises the importance of clear communication in legal matters, and in a multicultural Britain where 49 languages have at least 15,000 speakers each, it also emphasises the importance of accurate legal translation.

Legal translators and interpreters need to demonstrate just as much aptitude as the solicitors and barristers they support. They need competence in legal writing style and verbal communication, thorough grounding in the terminology of their specialism and a working knowledge of the legal systems of both source and target languages. This isn’t simply a question of translating words on a page. It’s a question of conveying meaning with pinpoint precision. It takes someone very talented indeed to work with a source text designed to follow one legal system and convert it into a target text suitable for another.

The right translation partner will tick all of these boxes and more, and before doing anything else they will establish exactly what the final translation will be used for and why. Tone, sentence construction, terminology and phraseology will then be balanced to your exact needs.

At Language Connect we work with professionals whose understanding of legal language is sophisticated, specialised and constantly refreshed. When the smallest mistake can have measureless consequences, you can hardly settle for less. Two summers ago a single translation phrasing error almost threw Sri Lanka into chaos. A certified English translation of the constitution of the Tamil National Alliance mistakenly called for Sri Lanka to be divided into two separate sovereign countries, one Tamil and one Muslim. Sri Lanka’s Constitution bans political parties from seeking the establishment of a separate State. Until the mistake was retracted, there was a genuine danger of conflict and bloodshed.

Whatever problems may arise between husbands and wives, we hope civil war won’t be among the consequences. But unnecessary conflict and unnecessary confusion can be sidestepped when you choose your partners wisely. It’s a good day for everyone when they put their trust in a professional translation service.

David Jones

Do It Yourself?

social justice

 

Need a lawyer?

For an increasing number of people embroiled in legal action in the UK the answer may still be yes, but it’s the question that needs updating.

Since drastic Legal Aid cutbacks were implemented in April 2013, more and more people have to ask themselves whether or not they can afford a lawyer. For those who can’t the options and the consequences can be ugly. The impact in England and Wales has been telling. Year on year, the number of people representing themselves in Welsh courtrooms almost doubled between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Crispin Masterman, a former family judge in South East Wales has recently drawn attention to the damage this can do to the family unit. Mr Masterman and many others in the profession are convinced that removing lawyers from the legal process directly causes delays, and where proceedings concern family law he fears that children often suffer most,

“The damage that’s done is both emotional and probably, in some cases, psychological as well, and the difficulty is that parents don’t see this, they’re so tied up in their own issues that they forget that the child’s welfare is the paramount issue.”

Anticipating this increase in “per se” representation, the Bar Council of England and Wales published a detailed guide for anyone considering this route when the funding cuts were first announced. Well-intentioned as this was, can untrained, unqualified private citizens really be expected to represent themselves adequately in a highly-charged courtroom setting?

The National Justice Committee certainly doesn’t think so. Comprising the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, the Justice Alliance and the Criminal Bar Association, this group has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the cutbacks. Its members believe a fundamental principle – and the concept of social justice in this country – has been compromised.  

The legal profession hasn’t always been portrayed flatteringly in the media or in popular culture. For every Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird there are many more John Miltons, portrayed by Al Pacino in The Devils’ Advocate as not only a venal attorney but the devil incarnate. Many people question the motives and even the necessity of lawyers. Professionals on both sides of the Atlantic would no doubt prefer to identify with the slogan of the 1996 American Bar Association’s national convention:

“Freedom, Justice, Liberty — without lawyers they’re just words.”

Language service providers can easily identify with the lawyers they support. Where Google offers a cheap substitute for professional translation, self-representation is the budget alternative to skilled professional advocacy. In both examples, important details will be lost along the way. We sympathise with those who have no alternative to self-representation and we applaud the lawyers who continue to stand up for their rights, but the message is clear. Professionals get the job done. Just as language issues need to be resolved by a professional translator, the courtroom is an arena for the lawyer.

 

See the sights. Catch a show. Get a divorce…

divorce

 

Paris – the city of love. 

Rome – the eternal city. 

New York – the city that never sleeps. 

London – divorce capital of the world. 

 

While the UK’s capital might have hoped for a more romantic association, its lawyers could hardly have asked for a more lucrative one. For a range of reasons, the UK in general and London in particular has become a magnet for the super-rich who are falling out of love.

International visitors value the even-handed approach and discretionary elements of English divorce law. And they will be aware of the eye-catching financial settlements of recent years:

  • In 2006 insurance broker John Charman was ordered to pay his wife Beverly £48m.
  • In 2008 Heather Mills was awarded £24.3m in her highly publicized split from Sir Paul McCartney.
  • In 2011 Russian oligarch Boris Berezowsky is believed to have agreed a payment of £220m to his wife of 20 years, Galina Berashova.

More international and commercial arbitrations take place in London under English law than in any other city in the world. Added to this, the Times has reported that one case in every six that come before courts in England and Wales include an international element. With so much at stake, financially and personally, there’s no room for error in the presentation of evidence. Every word and every nuance matters. When a client’s native language isn’t English, translation and interpreting from a proven legal specialist will convey information precisely, in sense and spirit, giving other professionals the platform to do their jobs equally well. 

Those seeking to end a marriage in the UK will find few jurisdictional barriers in their way. It’s not necessary for either spouse to be British born or British domiciled to file divorce proceedings under English law. Jurisdiction can be established through residence of either party, or sometimes simply by the proof of a commercial connection to the country. And for both parties, there are firm arguments in favour of a London settlement.

English Courts recognise that there should be no discrimination between the contributions of a homemaker and breadwinner in a marriage, so the starting assumption in all cases is an equal division of matrimonial assets. While this has been refined to allow exceptions, it remains a compelling point.

Crucially, Pre-Nuptial and Pre-Marital Agreements have no statutory force in England and Wales. They may be looked at on a case by case basis as part of the tapestry of a marriage, but won’t be given the weight they receive in other territories.

It’s also fair to say that overseas citizens seeking legal representation may be attracted to the UK by the quality of the professionals who practice there. Long standing leaders such as Farrer & Co continue to balance their clients’ emotional and economic interests with consummate skill, while Stowe Family Law have proved for decades that London has no monopoly on quality. The firm has a London presence along with five offices in the north of England, and is home to some of the country’s most respected practitioners. 

Divorce capital of the world may not be the most romantic title, but when it signifies fairness and professional competence it’s nothing to shy away from.

 

David Jones

Chinatown

Chinatown

 

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

In Chinatown, the celebrated 1974 film noir, a private detective played by Jack Nicholson attempts to do the right thing for his client but his actions inadvertently do far more harm than good. The movie’s closing line sees a colleague asking him to walk away and put the events behind him. A cynical movie character struggling with that scenario is one thing, but how much more difficult must it be for a principled officer of the court? One of the problems facing our legal professionals recently surfaced in a real life “Chinatown” scene, and as with the movie it offered no immediate prospect of a happy ending.

Earlier this month a Crown court judge asked a defence barrister to search the Chinese restaurants of Cardiff for an interpreter after the agency contracted to provide one failed to do so, not once but twice. Liu Sun, the defendant, had been arrested for offences related to importing prohibited goods. She denied the charges, but was denied a fair hearing on two consecutive days when no Mandarin speaking interpreter was provided. His Honour Judge Burr, no doubt exasperated, made the request but it was refused. Understandably and fortunately. While it could open up a string of employment opportunities for catering staff, this isn’t a precedent we want to set.

Until February 2012, courts in England and Wales were at liberty to hire freelance legal interpreters from a national register. The decision to award a near monopoly to a single language service provider was intended as a cost cutting exercise, promising savings close to £20 million a year. A large part of the saving was to come from legal interpreters being forced to accept reduced rates from the only employer in the market. What else could they do?

The reality has been very different, of course. Skilled professional interpreters simply refused to be held to ransom and boycotted the process. A review started by the Public Accounts Committee in December 2012 uncovered tales of an interpreter register peppered with fictional names and even family pets. At regular intervals since then we’ve heard positive noises indicating that the ship has been steadied, but this Cardiff episode suggests that responsible legal professionals and their clients may be back to square one.

So what does the future hold?

Should pizza waiters be drafted in for Italian interpreting assignments?

Should sushi servers be called upon to mediate Japanese renewable energy trade deals?

Or should we draw a line in the sand and leave crucial linguistic tasks to suitably skilled linguists?

Skilled courtroom interpreters aren’t just speakers of a language. They are specialists, comfortable with the chosen mode of interpreting, with the terminology of their field and with the pressures of any given case. They are professionals, as much as the officers of the court they serve.

And like the solicitors, barristers and judges they work alongside, they have no appetite for scenarios where a client has been done more harm than good. They don’t want Chinatown. By working together, the legal profession and their support partners can deliver something very much better.

 

David Jones

Common Wealth?

union jack alarm clock

Major international sporting events aren’t just showcases for excellence and endeavour. They are also showcases for the cities and countries that host them. The opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics left the world in awe of China’s capacity for the spectacular. Four years on, London put smiles on a billion faces with a Games that IOC President Jacques Rogge aptly described up as “happy and glorious”.

For the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which open tonight in Glasgow, the stakes are raised. With only eight weeks left until its independence referendum, Scotland has the opportunity to send a message to the world and to its own population.

A successful Games, and particularly a rush of medals, may well deliver an emotional boost to the independence campaign. But what of the colder, harder realities? What are the legal implications of a Scottish breakaway?

With so much at stake for Scotland and for the UK as a whole, it’s perhaps surprising that so many crucial constitutional questions remain unanswered. We’re accustomed to political opponents spinning the facts to suit their respective arguments, but in this case it’s not entirely clear what the facts are.

What would an independent Scotland’s currency be?

How soon, if at all, would it become an EU member state?

Would the new country be eligible for UN membership, and what would the implications be for the UK’s membership of the Security Council?

A yes vote on September 18th would trigger negotiations for a severance settlement with the UK Government with Independence Day to come in 2016.

Anyone drinking a toast on that day may struggle to make lawful payment for their drink unless Scotland’s currency issue is resolved. The SNP has argued that the pound belongs to Scotland as much as it does to England, and many pro-independence campaigners insist that a currency union between an independent Scotland and what remains of the UK can be negotiated. But the leaders and financial spokespeople of all three major Westminster parties have categorically ruled this out. And this week Scottish Affairs Committee Chairman Ian Davidson bluntly dismissed talk of currency union as a “dead parrot”.

Pro-independence campaigners are adamant that Scotland is effectively already part of the EU, meets all the requirements for membership and will be granted member status within their proposed 18 month transition timetable. Senior EU figures have questioned the realism of this timetable and some have questioned whether membership would be granted at all.

Former EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has stated on record that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for a newly independent Scotland to join the EU. But the pot was given another stir last weekend when an unnamed EU official was quoted as saying that Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker would not want Scotland to be kept out and that furthermore, Scotland would be regarded as a different case to other new applicants.

While Mr Juncker has no reason to do David Cameron any favours the report remains unsubstantiated, and any decision on Scottish membership would not be his to make. Added to that, the EU Project has at times appeared so close to exhaustion that any new members from 2016 onward may find themselves arriving at a party just as the drinks run out.

Any Scottish ambitions for full membership of the United Nations would be complicated by the UK’s permanent seat on the Security Council. This seat could be jeopardised by the perception of diminished UK status. While this clearly wouldn’t be in the UK’s best interests, it may not be in Scotland’s either. And the irony of a “United Nations” membership debate between nations choosing to disunite would be painful.

Some of the most persuasive voices in this debate have been those that remain relentlessly objective. As the representative body of over 10,500 solicitors the Law Society of Scotland has a vested interest in the country’s probity and prosperity, and Society President Bruce Beveridge proved to be a voice of unbiased reason. While others on both sides blustered, Mr Beveridge asked pertinent questions and offered cool judgement. When his term of office ended in May his successor Alistair Morris carried on in the same vein. By raising key questions on economics and education Mr Morris has brought welcome pragmatism and attention to detail to a debate that has often lacked both. It’s an example that others would do well to follow.

Scotland’s political and economic future is in the balance, and while sporting events in Glasgow may provide us with entertainment and even inspiration, they can’t obscure the fact that too many questions remain unanswered for comfort.

 

David Jones