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Debate-Ed Programme – Progress so Far

The Debate-Ed programme has come to the end of its summer/autumn run and will now be on break until early January. Consequently, this is a good opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved so far.

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Interactive workshops

Prestfelde School, Priory School and Meole Brace School have all had students take part in our interactive workshops. Students have debated a wide range of topics including the use of Photoshop, capping salaries, the use of doping within sport, human rights and feminism. Students have sometimes been given the option of choosing which side they are on and to express their own opinion, and at other times have been allocated a side and pushed to carefully analyse the potential arguments they could make, even if this is against their natural inclination.

Effective counter arguments

The purpose of all this is to help students to develop vital skills. Students have been taught in particular about the importance of making effective counter arguments when debating. To do this well, students need to listen to their opponent, identify their key points and then explain why their opponent is wrong and why they are right. This is an extremely useful skill and is essentially what distinguishes debating from speech making. It requires students to think more deeply about what their opponent has said and how to react quickly to a developing argument.

To be a good debater, you cannot simply write a speech hours before the debate and then read out your speech verbatim. You need instead to react to the other speakers and counter their points.

This skill is particularly relevant within the legal industry as whether you are a barrister or a solicitor, you will always need to be able to react quickly to what is being said and to respond to any developments appropriately. Just as no debate is the same, similarly no case is ever the same. It is not possible to simply churn out the usual answers and hope for the best. You need to tailor your answers to the facts in front of you and be able to deal with whatever surprises there are along the way.

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Thank you to all involved

Overall I am really proud of the Debate-Ed programme and the skills it is teaching students across Shropshire. I would especially like to thank the students from Sixth Form College who give up their time to lead these workshops and have done a fantastic job this year. I would also like to thank the schools and teachers involved. Their support for the programme has been phenomenal and it is great to see us reaching more and more students.

When Debate-Ed returns, we will be hosting both a debating competition and also inviting the students who have completed the Core Programme to complete an English Speaking Board debating qualification.

Animal Cruelty & Lorry Driver Offences

The Government is currently consulting on whether or not to increase the maximum penalty for Animal Crueltyoffences.

Currently the maximum sentence available to the courts is six months custody which has often been criticised as being far too lenient for the most serious cases. The new proposal is to increase the sentence significantly to up to five years imprisonment.

Lorry drivers are to face tougher penalties if they exceed certain time limits on the road, if they breach their tachograph restrictions by exceeding the hours they work in a 24 hour period.

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Traffic officers can now issue fixed penalty fines of up to £300, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has announced.

Dragons Den – Spotlight on Communities and Charities in Shropshire

I was really pleased last month to be involved with a charity event organised by the Shropshire Providers Consortium (SPC). Five charities met with local business people at Lanyon Bowdler’s Shrewsbury office to discuss their existing and planned activities in Shropshire. Similar events also took place in Oswestry and Telford.

Joining myself as ‘Dragons’ were Carol Ewels from Always Consult, Sarah Offland from Barclays, Mandy Thorn from Marches Care and Councillor Nic Laurens from Shropshire Council. We did our best however to reign in any tendencies towards fire breathing and instead focused on how we could potentially work with or support the organisations that came to pitch their ideas.

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It was very interesting to hear about the range of different projects and community groups that exist within Shrewsbury. In attendance were Headway Shropshire, Axis Counselling, Shropshire Disability Network, Shropshire Youth Association and the Yellow Ribbon Community Chaplaincy.

All the charities/groups had the opportunity to highlight their work and ask for support with a particular aspect. I have summarised below the current work of the different charities and their plans for the future.

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Headway Shropshire

Headway Shropshire is a registered charity working with people who have suffered an acquired brain injury. They support people both in their own homes and within their dedicated site to help individuals to return to living as independently as possible and to enjoy everyday activities such as cooking, art and craft, socialising and gardening. They currently have 110 day placements per week, but find that the demand for their services is ever growing.

Headway Shropshire consequently is looking to grow to meet this demand and to secure a new building which would allow them to offer more day places, along with accommodation for those who are well enough to leave hospital, but need to remain within a supportive environment.

If you would like to find out more about Headway Shropshire, you can visit their website here: http://www.headwayshropshire.org.uk.

They are also holding a winter fair on Saturday 18 November if you would like to pop in and meet the team.

Axis Counselling

Axis Counselling provide essential counselling to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Their focus is on helping adults and children to deal with the trauma of those experiences and go on to thrive and reach their potential. They, like many services providing mental health support, have found that demand has greatly outstripped their ability to supply services. They advised that at the moment, they have 200 people on the waiting list with patients waiting around one year for an appointment.

They wanted advice on how to expand their services and generate income so that they could reach more people.

They also suggested that in the future they would like to offer training in schools and colleges in relation to sexual abuse.

If you would like to find out more about Axis Counselling, you can visit their website here: http://www.axiscounselling.org.uk/.

Shropshire Disability Network

Shropshire Disability Network provide support through their website, quarterly meetings and newsletters to those in Shropshire who suffer from a disability or long-term health conditions along with offering carers and social workers. They also run the Safe Places community initiative in Shropshire.

Ruby Hartshorn of Shropshire Disability Network explained that while their organisation has just over 1000 members across Shropshire, she is aware that there are over 56,000 people with disabilities or long term conditions in Shropshire. She wanted advice on how to reach more people and raise awareness of what Shropshire Disability Network can offer.

They also had this to say about their participation in the event;

"SDN appreciated the opportunity to pitch to the friendly dragons, we are grateful to those who are helping us. A quick win for us was when networking with the other charities as it gave us chance to talk. Shropshire Youth Association offered us storage space at an accessible location meaning our Chairperson who has stored the majority of our items can have her home back"

You can find out more about Shropshire Disability Network here: https://shropshire-disability.net/.

Shropshire Youth Association

Shropshire Youth Association assists youth clubs and groups and provides programmes for young people in Shropshire such as CRUCIAL CREW. They currently support 120 youth clubs across Shropshire with offices, budgets, safeguarding, DBS checks and training. However, since public funding was cut four years ago, they have seen a drop in the number of clubs registering with the Shropshire Youth Association.

They wanted advice on how to adapt to the changes in public funding and assistance in developing their organisation further.

You can learn more about Shropshire Youth Association here: http://www.sya.org.uk/.

Yellow Ribbon Community Chaplaincy

This organisation aims to help ex-offenders rehabilitate and provide mentoring support, temporary accommodation and a furniture restoration shop and café where ex-offenders can retrain, get work experience and obtain a reference. Pauline Mack of Yellow Ribbon explained to the Dragons that sometimes ex-offenders leave prison with just the clothes on their backs and £46 to last them for up to four - six weeks before any benefits are received. It is in these situations that Yellow Ribbon try to step in to assist the ex-offenders and help them to get back on their feet.

Yellow Ribbon was particularly looking to expand their café, workshop and furniture shop so that they could give more ex-offenders an opportunity to learn business skills while volunteering there.

You can learn more about the Yellow Ribbon projects here: http://yellowribbonuk.org.uk/.

Wheelchair Awareness Day

I was horrified to read that paralympian Anne Wafula Strike took the drastic decision to undergo surgery to have a suprapubic catheter fitted (for which she had no medical need) because she had had such bad experiences trying to access working disabled toilets. On one occasion she ended up having to wet herself on a train journey because the disabled toilet was out of order. She describes how finding disabled toilets, which would accommodate her needs, was a daily struggle. Such an experience is humiliating and facing these kinds of issues daily can significantly restrict the quality of life that the disabled should be able to enjoy.

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My colleague Dawn Humphries and I had an eye opening experience at a Wheelchair Awareness Day in Birmingham hosted by No 5 Barristers Chambers, which was held with input from the Back Up Trust, (a UK charity helping individuals who have suffered a devastating spinal cord injury rebuild their independence), solicitor and wheelchair user Raquel Siganporia (Trustee of the Spinal Injuries Association) and paralympian Steve Brown, Captain of the London 2012 GB Wheelchair Rugby team.

Basic wheelchair skills

As well as some inspirational talks from their key speakers, and insight into the experience of wheelchair users, Dawn and I were taught some basic wheelchair skills by Back Up. We then completed a basic challenge which included manoeuvring through a slalom, reversing and parking – not too bad on a flat surface with nothing else to worry us!

We were then let loose on the streets in the City Centre to try and complete seven real life challenges. These included trying to access a disabled toilet, visiting a cashpoint and purchasing a drink from a café.

It was a real eye opener and incredibly hard work to propel yourself on what appeared to be a flat pavement, every slight surface change was gruelling. We were further thwarted by a lift that didn’t work and fire doors so heavy they could barely be opened from a sitting position!

Lack of accessible facilities

As for trying to access the disabled toilet, this proved one of the biggest challenges of all. Although Birmingham Central Library is a modern state of the art building, in which you would have hoped full consideration had been given to providing accessible facilities, this sadly did not prove to be the case.

There was no disabled toilet on the ground floor, and as mentioned above the lift initially didn’t work and we were faced with the heavy fire doors. Having finally manoeuvred through the doorway we were faced with a sign on the disabled toilet to say it was ‘out of use’. At this point I began to understand where Anne Wafula Strike was coming from.

Dawn and I encountered similar difficulties when trying to perform the other challenges getting a real glimpse of an insight into how so many day to day tasks can present a huge challenge if you are a wheelchair user.

This can end up limiting the options that should be available, but Raquel Siganporia challenged us to rethink and raise our expectations for those who have to use wheelchairs.

There is clearly still a huge way to go in ensuring that accessibility and quality of life for wheelchair users is as good as it can be.

Right equipment

The day also highlighted what a difference it can make having the right equipment. Claire Ashton, an Occupational Therapist with huge experience in this area highlighted how high quality, well fitted wheelchair and postural management support can make all the difference for individuals who have a spinal injury. This also reduces the risk of other medical complications such as pressure sores, chest infections and urinary infections.

Wheelchair rugby leaves us battered and bruised

In the afternoon we met Steve Brown, who used to be Team GB wheelchair rugby captain, who now hosts Countryfile, works with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games and presents as a sports commentator. Steve gave us an incredible insight into how a spinal injury, although catastrophically life altering, can also be a catalyst for amazing life opportunities.

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We then took a coach to the university sports hall and soon realised we were in for trouble, when faced with not only a sea of wheelchair rugby chairs, but also people getting changed into sports gear. What followed was a terrifyingly intensive two hour knockout heat of full on, no holds barred, rugby combat, coached by Team GB champions, which was absolutely not for the faint hearted. They were ruthless and we both had the bruises to show for it and are thankful that compulsory games are no longer part of our weekly routine!

We made some good networking contacts, were exhausted, but came away with a far greater insight into some of the challenges and skills of wheelchair living.

The day made a lasting impression on our understanding of what is clearly a massive challenge to those with spinal injuries and their families. It has underlined the importance of helping those with spinal injuries to have the support and equipment to maximise their quality of life.

Many thanks to No 5 Barristers Chambers for letting us use their photos in the above blog. To view the great video from the day, visit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maH5V0G9kBQ&feature=youtu.be

SARDA Wales' October Training

SARDA Wales’ October training weekend got off to an exciting start with an unlikely and unwilling celebrity in our midst! October is always the pre-assessment weekend, where the dogs and handlers due to be assessed in November are put through their final paces, any little issues identified and tweaked and a variety of possible terrains covered.

Ben goes AWOL

However, a few days earlier Trainee Search Dog Ben had decided to branch out on his own, during a walk on Snowdon with his handler’s friend, and he went missing. Thanks to the power of social media little Ben’s story was put out there and in the first six hours after the news broke, was shared and liked more than 100,000 times on Facebook!!

It was a filthy night of high winds and sideways rain and it’s probably fair to say none of us slept a wink, worrying about him. Members of local Mountain Rescue Teams went out in awful weather to search for him – he’s very used to being outside in all sorts and is a rugsy-tugsy little collie but those conditions, together with the fear he must have felt, made it a very worrying time for all concerned.

Ben is found!

I think the wind speed became a gust the next morning, therefore, when we all breathed a collective sigh of relief at the news he had been found. Kes, the Team vet, had gone for an early run on Snowdon and to see if she could find any sign of him and, to everyone’s immense joy she heard Ben (cold and hungry but otherwise not too shaken by his ordeal) whimpering at the outflow of Llyn Glaslyn, partway up Snowdon. She coaxed him towards her (with cat treats!) and carried him down the mountain to be reunited with his delighted handler, Alex.

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Plans to spend our training weekend searching for him were abandoned, designs for flyers ditched and we got down to the job in hand of getting Ben and the other dogs ready for assessment in November.

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I also had a lovely morning meeting one of our little puppy friends from the Isle of Man, Cody, whose dad Matt is training to be a search dog for the Manx team. After a late night and an early morning nothing quite beats excited wet nose snuggles from a blue merle puppy!

Training starts

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Down to business and I was sent to the beach at Dinas Dinlle to body for the lowland search dogs, Izzy, Matt and Ben.

We started with a short search for Ben just to make sure that he wasn’t shaken by his ordeal earlier in the week and that he was happy to range away from his handler, luckily there was no cause for concern and he found me very quickly in the long grass.

After that a party of us were sent to disperse around the dunes, with some entertaining fence-climbing acrobatics on the way (what looks like a simple hop over a fence becomes a different story when you have a fully loaded rucksack on your back – and an audience!), I found a lovely spot down near the edge of a beach, dug down into a drumlin where there was a nice sheltered stretch of sand for a snooze, it was dry enough to get my book out and I had the waves whispering in my ears, a superb view of the Search & Rescue helicopter base nearby and I could watch them training.

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However, it was not the day to find out that the insulation on your flask has broken and your lovely hot tea, prepared two hours earlier, is now tepid water. That’s never a good start to five hours of lying in the same spot, but thankfully my book was absorbing and my rucksack full of tasty provisions.

Found by the search dogs

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First in to find me was Trainee Search Dog Matt who struck on my scent from a couple of hundred yards away and gave my ears a thorough lick before returning to his handler to indicate the find and bring him back to me. Matt loves a good game of tug as his reward and demonstrated his strength by catching me unawares and pulling me along the ground on my stomach by a short piece of rope, oblivious to any sense of decorum!

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Having got the sand out of my top and dusted myself down I snuggled back into my sleeping bag with my book, for a brief rest before Search Dog Izzy found me. I body for Izzy a good deal and she’s an absolute livewire, seemingly impossible to tire out although I had a good go with her tennis ball which she chased for a good five minutes before she realised she had “de-squeaked” it (RIP, tennis ball!)

My final “knight in furry armour” was Trainee Search Dog Ben who seemed to have put all his adventure behind him and was ranging freely across the dunes, locating bodies. By now the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain so I retreated deep into my bivvy bag. This didn’t faze Ben at all, he struck on my scent from across the dunes and burrowed deep into the top of my bivvy bag to check he had found me, before racing back to Alex and barking to bring him back to me, having to return to him three times and re-locate me on each occasion.

Back to the control point

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After a good game of tug and chase Ben was quite happy to settle down for a brief cuddle with me before setting off to find his final body, and I was asked to head back up to the “control” point to meet the other handlers and assessors from where we watched Alex and Ben search the rest of their area, (whilst each silently planning a more graceful return over the fence on the way back – I didn’t succeed with any more grace or finesse than the first time but am lucky to be surrounded by chivalrous types!), back for a debrief and a journey home in the growing gloom along the dramatic coastline as darkness fell.

Dogs on social media!

Some of our dogs now have their own Facebook pages (yes, search dogs are so clever they can even use smartphones and remember passwords!) so if you’d like to know more please friend request them and keep up to date with their exploits:

Matt- The Search and Rescue Dog
Izzy Searchdog Sherlock
Sardog Izzy

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Ginger, the trailing dog, also keeps us entertained with his photos and little stories on Twitter @gingegsd and loves to make new friends, so give him a follow and some likes!

What Happens When You First Call Lanyon Bowdler?

No, don’t panic this is not going to be about little green men from space but the first contact a lot of our clients have with a firm of solicitors.

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Making the first call to a solicitor can sometimes be at one of the most difficult times of your life, especially if it is following the death of a parent, partner, sibling etc. So the first voice the caller hears should be one of sympathy, understanding, patience and lots of reassurance. This is where first contact is very important and it is not always the solicitor that the caller speaks to first.

As a secretary in the private client team I am never sure why someone is ringing and therefore always answering the phone in a professional manner is important. When I hear the words my husband/wife etc died this morning, it makes the whole first contact process even more important. That person may know a little of what happens next but they may know nothing at all and it is in the first few moments that I need to work out exactly what the caller requires.

Compassion is key

I always offer my sympathy on their loss and this can be the reassurance they need to confirm they are dealing with someone who is prepared to listen and that this need not be a frightening experience.

In the first instance I help establish whether there is an immediate hurry to do anything regarding the legal process and, if they have not done so, the death should be registered as soon as possible to allow things to proceed.

Needing the right information

I then always ask if there is a Will and whether there are any funeral wishes in it. At this point I need to take the name of the deceased and date of birth, date of death and address. This in itself can sometimes be the first time a caller becomes aware it is all too real. It is not unusual at this time for the caller to become quite emotional and spend lots of time apologising for being silly. I always assure them not to worry and to just take their time.

I am sometimes asked why I need all these details and explain that I will need to check our systems for a Will. I explain that the Wills are held in safe storage and not always immediately accessible so I take their contact details and ensure someone from this department will call them back, usually within the same working day.

Providing direct contact

I always provide the caller with my direct contact details so they don’t have to go back through our switchboard and explain why they are calling again, should they have any further queries, which most people do think of after finishing the call. I also reassure them that I will pick up any voice messages they leave me and someone will call them back if I am unable to pick up their call.

The time after the initial phone conversation can be a very useful period for the caller as it gives them time to draw breath and think of all the things they would like to ask on the next call. During a second phone call they are not usually so flustered or nervous as they have already made that first and hardest call.

Subsequent calls will either be made by me or a solicitor and the legal process can then begin.

Reimbursement of Employment Tribunal Fees

As we have reported previously here, on 26 July 2017 the Supreme Court held that the employment tribunal fee regime was unlawful and must be quashed. Prior to the ruling the Government had already agreed that if the tribunal fees order was found to be unlawful, all fees would be repaid. At the time of the ruling, the Government issued a statement saying that they were working on the arrangements for a refund scheme and they hoped to be able to announce further details in September 2017. There has been a lot of speculation as to how the Government would administer this, as there were a number of difficulties to consider, such as how to deal with fees paid for multiple claims, and fees paid by respondents when unsuccessfully defending claims or as part of settlements before claims proceeded to a final hearing.

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What happens now?

The first stage of the refund scheme has now been launched, confirming that as well as being refunded their original fee, successful applicants to the scheme will also be paid interest of 0.5%, calculated from the date of the original payment up until the refund date.

The Government will initially be contacting up to around 1,000 people, who will be given the chance to complete applications before the full scheme is opened up in around the next four weeks. It will also be working with trade unions who have supported large multiple claims.

Further details of the scheme are to be made available when it is rolled out fully, including details of how to apply for reimbursement. While not stated in the announcement, it is expected that the key details of the scheme will be:

  • It will cover Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) fees as well as employment tribunal fees.

  • It will be open to both claimants and respondents who paid fees.

  • It will also be open to respondents who had to pay a claimant a costs order in respect of the claimant's tribunal or EAT fees, if they can produce evidence that a costs order was made and paid.

  • It will not be open to respondents who compensated a claimant for their tribunal fees under a settlement agreement.

  • Applicants under the scheme will have to sign a declaration confirming their entitlement. This will include declaring that the applicant did not receive a costs award covering their tribunal fees.

The Government has announced that parties who have paid “employment tribunal fees”, but have not been invited to take part in the initial stage, can pre-register their interest in applying for reimbursement when the full scheme is rolled out. Those who wish to do so can register either by email at: ethelpwithfees@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk; or alternatively by post to Employment Tribunal Central Office (England and Wales) / Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) Fees, PO Box 10218, Leicester LE1 8EG.

The Government has said that the estimated cost of the tribunal fees refund, including interest, is £33 million.

Reinstatement of claims rejected or dismissed for failure to pay fee

The Government has not yet announced how it intends to deal with claims that were rejected or dismissed for non-payment of a fee or failure to apply for remission. Nevertheless, it is understood from HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service) that it will be writing to some 7,500 prospective claimants asking whether they wish for their claim to be reinstated.

With regards to claims that were never brought, for example because the claimant was deterred from doing so because of the fee they would have had to pay, it seems that if a claimant now makes such a claim it will be dealt with under normal judicial principles for out-of-time claims. Given that it is now three months since it was announced that employment tribunal fees were abolished, it will surely be particularly difficult for any such claims to secure admission out of time in respect of which a claim has still yet to be submitted.

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