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The Legal Landscape: 2010 – today

Posted by
03 Jun 2015
Today we're looking at the past five years of the legal profession in which the legal sector has seen several important cases which have an impact in the UK and further afield.

Freedom of the press - a step too far

Allegations of 'News of the World' reporters hacking phones for information dominated the headlines in 2011. It seemed no-one was safe including politicians, celebrities and even victims of serious crime.

While the 'News of the World' said the interception of phone messages had been an isolated incident, the 'Guardian' newspaper found the hacking to be on a much wider scale, and the Metropolitan Police launched a new investigation. Following the discovery that reporters had hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to open a public inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson.

When the final report was published in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry ruled that the existing Press Complaints Commission was not suitable, and went on to recommend a new independent body, which could use a wide variety of sanctions. Lord Leveson also recommended that newspapers should continue to be self-regulated, and the government should have no power over what they publish.

While the Free Speech Network, which represents several high profile editors and publishers, was opposed to any involvement in the regulation of the press, the 'Hacked Off' campaign argued that  self-regulation has evidently failed.

The investigation had significant implications with the 'News of the World' being closed and several employees pleading guilty to conspiracy to hack phones. Former editors Rebekah Brooks was acquitted, whilst Andy Coulson was convicted and sentenced.

The Care Act

In the first overhaul of social care in England for more than six decades, the Care Act 2014 brought a significant turning point for the legal sector. The new legislation, passed last May, aimed to revise existing laws, which authorities claimed had become cumbersome, confusing and outdated.

As part of the amendments, local councils were tasked with the job of promoting the wellbeing of individuals - and this relates not only to users of services, but also to carers. What's more, people who are receiving care and support from a council provider will now be covered by the Human Rights Act, but this will not apply to those people paying for their own care.

However, not all of the key amendments were passed. Controversially social workers are not able to make a court-approved right of entry to the homes of vulnerable people who they suspected were being exploited or abused.

The public sector team at Sellick Partnership have already noticed an increase in adult social care roles and understand there is significant change in authorities across the UK, as the new approach to social care has wider implications for members of the public and the carers themselves.

A light at the end of the tunnel for victims

Of course one of the most shocking events of the decade was Operation Yewtree and the events preceding this investigation. After Jimmy Saville was identified as a serial abuser, hundreds of victims came forward to make historical claims against other high profile figures including Rolf Harris and Max Clifford, both imprisoned last year.

Whilst the particulars of these cases are well documented in the press, the biggest impact of the case has been the creation of a secure and trusting environment for victims to come forward. The NSPCC saw a significant rise in the number of children contacting them to report abuse and in a historically difficult area to prosecute, further cases of abuse have been identified. 

Last year, the Rotherham abuse case, which identified over 15 years of abuse in the town in 2010, was reviewed by Lord Jay. Victims had come forward and not been believed, but this post-Yewtree report resulted in the suspension of four local councillors, and a further investigation by the police is to take place. 

There is a shift in public consciousness which is to encourage victims of abuse to speak out, as we've seen in the case of convicted rapist and footballer Ched Evans, who was released on licence last year. Whereas previously, footballers who have committed similar crimes have returned to play professionally on release, there has been such outcry from the general public that he shouldn't be allowed to return to his football career, no club has been successfully able to sign him to date.

Growing paranoia

WikiLeaks

Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange became focus of the public eye after co-founding news website WikiLeaks, which puts secret information and classified media into the public domain on the web. Generally regarded as the founder of the site, Assange hit the headlines more prominently in 2010 after WikiLeaks published US military documents leaked by soldier Chelsea Manning, who was later convicted for violating the Espionage Act.
Assange was facing extradition to Sweden in 2012 amid an investigation into alleged sexual offences. However, he was given political asylum by Ecuador, and took refuge at the Embassy of Ecuador in London.

Several documents published by WikiLeaks have later become front page news across the globe. In 2010, footage from the infamous 2007 Baghdad airstrike - during which Iraqi journalists were among those killed - was published by the site, while more than 70,000 documents were also published in relation to the war in Afghanistan. What's more, during the same year, almost 400,000 documents were uploaded to the site in conjunction with major global media organisations.
Assange's involvement in the cases meant members of the public had extremely mixed opinions on this type of activity. Though he had not strictly broken any laws, US Vice President Joe Biden and other US officials referred to him as a "terrorist”, whilst many others came out in support of the controversial figure.
The case of WikiLeaks has significant implications for the legal sector at the time of the leaks, predominantly due to the fact that lawyers were tasked with determining whether or not the information that was published was in the public interest, or posed a risk to national security - and therefore  illegal.

National Security Agency

The agency was brought to the forefront of public attention when former system administrator at the CIA, Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA's secret surveillance.

Leaked documents brought into the public domain by Snowden alleged the body intercepts the communications of more than a billion people around the world, and also tracking the movements of hundreds of millions using mobile phones. The allegations also suggested that the NSA created soft spots in most software, leaving the internet susceptible to cyber-attacks from the body.

Snowden was granted a three-year residency permit for Russia in 2014, which allows him to move freely around the country and travel abroad for no longer than three months. At the moment, Snowden is living in an undisclosed location in Russia and is seeking asylum in the European Union.

Hillsborough inquests re-opened

In March 2014, inquests into the deaths of the 96 football fans killed in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were reopened following a High Court decision to overrule the original verdicts of accidental death, which were finalised in December 2012. Expected to take up to a year, the inquests would see relatives of the victims invited to present character references of their family members before the court adjourns, giving the legal teams the chance to examine new pathological evidence relating to the deaths. During the legal proceedings, previously unseen BBC footage of the event was shown, while the issues of emergency planning, crowd management and the role of the emergency services has been revisited.

The reopening of the inquests came after the Hillsborough Independent Panel published a report into the original investigation in 2012 after it was established that the full facts of the events of 15th April 1989 may have been covered up. Legal locum Dean Hulse, spent 12 months advising the IPCC on its criminal investigation into the Hillsborough Disaster, and called it

"the most significant legal event of the decade."

Later that year, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that Liverpool fans had in no way been responsible for the disaster, while the main cause of the disaster had been a lack of police control. It also revealed that 164 witness statements had excluded negative comments about South Yorkshire Police and that then Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam Irvine Patnick had passed false information from the police to the media. Family members of the victims called for prosecutions for corporate manslaughter, perversion of the course of justice and unlawful killing following the report's publication.

Where next for the legal sector?

That brings us to the present day, but how is the legal sector going to look in the future? Will Alternative Business Structures continue to change the face of legal services as we know it? Or will the public sector be forced to 'commercialise' in the face of further cuts? In our next - and final - blog post in our series, we will investigate the trends that are expected to impact the sector over the next decade and beyond.

Have an opinion on our blog post, or a comment on how the legal sector has changed in the last five years? Alternatively, you can access our exclusive eBook which explores the key milestones in the legal landscape here.
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