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Weekly News Summary – 15th May 2017

Welcome back to another edition of the news summary at The Lawyer Portal. This post will cover the key legal news stories from 8th to 14th May. In the news last week, the worldwide cyber attack has dominated the headlines on Friday and over the weekend. Other stories include the largest UK divorce award in history and the latest increase in applications to study law.

Cyber attack
A ‘ransomware’ cyber attack has crippled IT systems in 150 countries.

A “ransomware” cyber attack has crippled IT systems in 150 countries. On Friday 12th May a huge cyber attack was reported to have hit 48 National Health Service (NHS) trusts in England. The attack affected IT systems meaning ambulance and hospital workers were no longer able to rely on computers to schedule surgeries, admit patients or dispatch ambulances. As a result, the already over-burdened NHS trusts were forced to cancel non-emergency operations and turn non-urgent patients away.

By the weekend, the cyber attack spread across Europe and the US affecting approximately 200,000 victims in 150 countries so far. Some of the organisations hit include Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn, Spanish telecommunications operator Telefonica, US logistics giant FedEx and Russia’s interior ministry. The hackers took control of users’ files and demanded ransom payments. The spread of the attack was halted by accident when an off-duty security researcher found a “kill switch” in the programme’s code. Although the number of payments made to the hackers has been relatively low, cyber security experts have warned that the impact of the attack may escalate on Monday.

The cyber-attack targeted Windows operating systems which failed to update to the most recent security software. The outdated Windows XP system was the most vulnerable. A freedom of information request has suggested that over 90% of the NHS was using the now 18-year-old operating system in 2014. While the full extent of the damage caused by the ransomware attack will become clear this week, this news story raises questions about whether organisations handling individuals’ data should be legally required to maintain fully updated IT security systems.  The European police force and other national security agencies are currently working to track down the perpetrators of the attack.

A High Court judge has ordered a City trader to pay his ex-wife a £453m divorce settlement. The sum is the largest UK divorce settlement to date. UK divorce law is based on the initial position that a 50/50 split is the starting point when it comes to financial settlements. However, both parties can then argue that the court should depart from its position and award more or less to either party. Ultimately, the case will be decided on its specific facts. In this recent case, the wife successfully argued that she was due nearly half of the couple’s total £1 billion fortune because of her “equal contributions to the welfare of the family” during their long marriage.

The family law courts have previously agreed that a partner who gave up work to look after the family home and the children may have still contributed to the couple’s joint fortune even if this was not directly in monetary terms. Essentially, the non-working partner may have enabled the working partner to pursue their career by giving up their own working life. However, the husband in this case unsuccessfully tried to argue that he had made a special or “stellar contribution” to the family’s wealth, meaning the wife was not an equal contributor. Ultimately, the principles on which this case was decided do not seem to be unusual, however the sums involved is what makes this story so attention-grabbing. Nonetheless, this case has shown that the “stellar contribution argument”, which husbands in long marriages often try to utilise in order to limit the size of the award, will remain limited to very specific circumstances.

This year, the number of applicants to study law has increased more than any other course. As the legal profession is faced with uncertainty in the face of the newly proposed Solicitor Qualification Exam (‘SQE’), hopeful lawyers do not seem to be deterred. UCAS applications to study law have increased by 5,410 this year – a 4.3% increase on the previous year. It is worth noting that these figures are based on applications rather than applicants – each UCAS applicant can submit up to 5 applications to several different universities for a range of degree subjects. Furthermore, the increase in the number of applicants is at least in part due to the range of initiatives encouraging students from all backgrounds to study at university.

Nonetheless, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the popularity of the law degree in the UK has generally been on the increase over the past few years. This recent increase has raised concerns that the number of law students is increasing while the number of job vacancies in the legal sector may be on the decline – especially in the run-up to Brexit. However, it is worth remembering that a law degree does not limit its graduates to work in the legal sector; a law degree is highly regarded and teaches valuable skills which are relevant in a range of industries from research and education to banking and marketing.

Words: Mariya Rankin

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