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Legal landscape in the 90s: adultery, raving & miscarriages of justice

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01 Jun 2015
Following Hannah Cottam's blog yesterday, I'm looking at how the legal landscape has changed since the 1990s, with this first article looking at the decade which saw Nelson Mandela released from prison, the death of Princess Diana and the launch of the World Wide Web.
The 90s: a decade that saw the world as we knew it begin to change beyond recognition.

We spoke to solicitors practicing in the 90s to get their take on the cases that changed the legal landscape and to understand how the role of the solicitor has altered as business focuses increasingly on work-life balance.

Family law and adultery in the spotlight
The newspapers in the 90s were full of tales of adultery, from Prince Charles and Camilla, to Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs, but in courts it was a family law case, White v White 1996, which would have the biggest impact on family law and divorce.

Previously, divorce cases tended to always favour the man in the relationship, and up until Pamela White appealed the result of her ancillary relief proceedings, the same was true in her divorce from husband Martin. What's more, in the 80s and 90s, more emphasis had been placed on the importance of needs and reasonable requirements of each party, rather than a fair division of assets.

Mr and Mrs White had shared net assets of £4.6million, of which £1.5million belonged to Mrs White. However, all assets were jointly owned. Despite that, the judge awarded her a lump sum of £800,000, ordered her to sign away her property rights and left Mr White with their business and land. She took the case to the court of appeal, stating her belief that the judge had failed to give adequate weight to the extent, diversity, duration and value of her contribution to the partnership. She was eventually granted £1.7 million, leading to the House of Lords upholding the decision of the Court of Appeal. The ruling brought about a change in direction in family law, as industry heads claimed the law on a needs basis was not in keeping with recent changes in society.

I spoke to Samantha Dawson a solicitor who qualified in 1996, and has practiced family law for 25 years, first in private practice, now within local authorities.
According to Samantha, the Human Rights Act (HRA) of 1998 had the biggest impact on her career in the 90s. The HRA didn't introduce the concept of Human Rights to Britain, but provided assurance that basic rights were protected more easily within British law.

"[Practice] has become more complicated because of Europe and the Human Rights Act. It is much more about keeping up with secondary legislation rather than primary legislation and practice guidance which comes from senior judiciary in central and local courts.”

Don't rave on
Rave culture, which gripped the nation in the 1980s and 1990s and saw thousands of revellers gathered in remote locations for a parties spanning several days, came crashing to a halt with the passing of a controversial piece of legislation in 1994.

As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher closed her grip on so-called football hooliganism and the acid house scene towards the end of her time in office, young people who united through a love of dance music - and in the majority of cases, illegal substances - were forbidden from gathering in open air spaces in a group of more than 20 as part of the unpopular Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

This legislation made it illegal for groups of people to meet in remote locations and listen to amplified music (which was described as "the emission of a succession of repetitive beats"), while any police officer who believed that such an event was being planned would have grounds to remove them from the land.

The Birmingham Six
The case of the Birmingham Six is perhaps one of the biggest instances of miscarriage of justice in legal history, which had significant implications in law and ultimately led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. It involved the wrongful prosecution of six men - Hugh Callaghan, Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker - following the Birmingham pub bombings, which took place in 1974.

Five of the six men, who had lived in the city since the 1960s, were travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of IRA member James McDade in the early evening of November 21st 1974, shortly before the explosions. They refused to inform the police of the reasons behind their visit and were taken to Morecambe police station for forensic testing when the police were informed of the Birmingham bombings during a search.

The following year, after facing mock executions and beatings from the authorities, the six men were charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. However, it later emerged the evidence had been inaccurate, and subsequent appeals in 1988 and 1991 revealed police fabrication and suppression of evidence.
A decade after they were released, the men were awarded compensation, which ranged from £840,000 to £1.2 million per person. This miscarriage of justice led to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, which reported in 1993 and eventually led to the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. What's more, Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers were convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury. However, they were never prosecuted.

A change of scene
Samantha believes there has been a great deal of change to ways of working since she qualified.

"Back in the 90s I worked ridiculously silly hours trying to establish myself and prove my worth. All my peers were doing it too. There is more flexibility now in the hours you work, and technology to help you work from home.”

Not only this, there's also been huge change in courtroom etiquette.

"In the 90s a judge could refuse to hear you if you were not wearing the appropriate dress as set out in the rules, for instance if you were wearing a pink striped blouse. Women are now able to wear trouser suites!”

Looking ahead to the 00s
The 1990s was a time of significant change in the legal industry, as several tragic events spurred politicians to roll out changes in legislation that are still impacting cases to this day.

Take a look at the next instalment in our blog series to see how the following decades changed the legal landscape even more. You can share your thoughts on the major news stories and new legislation in the comments field below, or via LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can access our exclusive eBook which explores the key milestones in the legal landscape here.

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