Welcome to another weekly The Lawyer Portal news summary. This post covers the main legal news stories from 15th to 21st May. In this week’s news, changes to the law on smoking have came into force this weekend, judges have been accused of treating an Oxford medical student who stabbed her ex-boyfriend leniently, and the Lord Chief Justice has re-emphasised the importance of legal education.
On Sunday 21st May the new stringent smoking laws came into force. These rules are the latest in the line of increasingly stringent regulations on the tobacco industry. Under the new rules, all cigarettes will be sold in standardised green packaging. Furthermore, at least 65% of the pack must be covered with health warnings and the now familiar graphic images of the health consequences of smoking. Packs must also contain at least 20 cigarettes meaning smokers will be unable to buy cheaper packs of 10. Packaging of hand-rolled tobacco must also be in the same colour and pouches must contain a minimum of 30g of tobacco. The measures will also phase out flavored and skinny “lipstick-style” cigarettes completely by 2020 in a bid to take remove any remotely appealing aspects of cigarettes.
These measures are derived from the EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014 which aims to regulate and reduce smoking across the EU. The directive also extends to e-cigarettes, restricting tank sizes to no more than 2ml and the nicotine strength of liquids to no more than 20mg/ml. There must also be a health warning covering 30% of the front and back of the package.
All these rules are obviously designed to discourage smoking, particularly among young people. However, some argue that these measures hit the poorest hardest, particularly since the number of smokers is greatest in disadvantaged communities. Smokers’ group Forest have also argued that these measures “treat adults like naughty children” and “infantilise consumers”, stating that this latest legal intervention is unacceptable and may not have an actual impact on public health.
The 24-year-old student was described to the court as very vulnerable with psychiatric issues. Furthermore, the injuries caused to the victim were relatively minor, he did not require hospital treatment and the 1cm wound in his leg was stitched at the scene. A representative of Miss Woodward’s college attended as a character witness and highlighted her academic abilities and high career aspirations, which may now be unattainable.
While the sentencing guidelines permit a judge to consider good character or exemplary conduct as mitigating factors, academic achievement is not mentioned. In the case, the judge referred to Miss Woodward as an “extraordinarily able lady” while her defence counsel described her as “bright”. It was perhaps these comments that aggravated accusations of lenient treatment, with some suggesting that there is class bias within the justice system and arguing that had Miss Woodward come from a different background, she would have been sent straight to prison. However, others, including Francis FitzGibbon QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, have pointed out that the sentencing guidelines were designed to promote equal treatment among defendants and limit a judge’s discretion.
Earlier this week Miss Woodward was forced to deactivate her Facebook account after both her and her lawyer received abusive threats. Miss Woodward has yet to be sentenced, so the wide-ranging allegations of bias in relation to her sentencing remain unfounded.
The Lord Chief Justice has highlighted the importance of consistently high standards in legal education in his speech at Aston University. Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd stated that it is essential that any reforms do not dilute the quality of legal education. Although Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd made no explicit reference, many have hypothesised that his comments may relate to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) plans to remove the traditional routes to solicitor qualification. Many critics of the SRA’s proposals have expressed concerns that no plans have been outlined for how the SRA will ensure that the standard of legal knowledge is consistent across the board since a law degree or conversion will no longer be compulsory.
In his speech commemorating the work of Professor Jill Poole, the Lord Chief Justice spoke about the importance of the “best possible legal education” as well as the need to teach procedure. However, the Lord Chief Justice also emphasised the need to teach law “as an academic subject and as a practical subject.” So it would seem that he may be among those who approve of the SRA’s increased focus on a wider range of legal work experience.