Archives for 2012

Help for Charity Trustees and School Governors

Charities and schools depend on Trustees, many of whom give their time voluntarily and take on major responsibilities. That can be a daunting prospect for people who have skills & experience in other sectors but have not worked in charities before. This can be a particular problem for organisation, such as parent teacher associations and community groups that have a high turnover of trustees and may see several board members arrive and move on each year.

To help them the Charity Commission has published two new online tools for newly appointed trustees.  Their online Trustees Handbook informs new trustees about their duties and responsibilities towards their charities and explains how to make use of the Commission’s online services and guidance. This includes a checklist of documents and information new trustees should either receive from their charity or find for themselves on the Commission’s website, including the charity’s governing document, recent charity accounts, minutes of board meetings, the charity’s conflicts of interest policy and key guidance such as The Essential Trustee.

Governors of academies, foundation and voluntary schools who are also trustees have the same responsibilities as trustees of registered charities. The Commission has joined with the school governor recruitment charity SGOSS and the Department for Education to produce an Introduction to Charity Law for Governors of Academies, Foundation and Voluntary Schools. This summarises their responsibilities and explains where they can find further information.

Harris & Harris can help schools and charities. Please contact Roland Callaby or Tim Berry.


Are Legal Services Regulated?

The short answer is “No”. Regulated legal services are regulated but there are many legal services that can be provided by unregulated businesses. Regulated legal services, with independently reviewed standards, complaints procedures and insurance, are provided by Solicitors, Barristers, Patent Agents, Legal Executives and Licensed Conveyancers.

If you are using anyone else, their services are not regulated, and your rights are limited to your contract with them, and the small print that they have included. In many cases that small print excludes all liability to you. Some may be members of trade organisations, but the effectiveness of those is variable.

We are regulated by the SRA, and have to give you information about who is doing your work, their status, what you will be charged, and protection against defaults by us, and protection for your funds if we hold them. If you are using an unregulated Legal Services Business, are they qualified to give you good advice, do you really know what they are going to cost and what happens if things go wrong?

The Legal Services Board, which is the “Super Regulator” for legal services is recommending that Will Writing and administering Probate should be regulated. At present there are many Will Writers, whose qualities are variable. We have seen firms come and go, and wonder what happens to the Wills they wrote. When we’ve looked at their charges, they are often more expensive than us because the price on their advert is only the start. Some Will Writing businesses are franchises, and the only qualification that the people have is going on a course for a couple of days. Also, they will be looking to use the opportunity to sell you other products, on which they will be earning commission.

The Legal Services Ombudsman has reported a major issue with people complaining about unregulated legal services, with which the Ombudsman cannot deal. If you are going to get legal advice you need to be confident at the outset about who is providing it.

Frome New Business Competition

Winner Joshua Maynard with Tom Killen of MDC

Harris & Harris were sponsors of the 2012 Frome New Business Competition run by Frome & District Chamber of Commerce.

There were a wide range of entrants reflecting Frome’s range of artisan, creative and traditional businesses. They included Absolutely offering artisan preserves and pickles, Julia’s Kitchen with gluten & dairy free cakes, and Yumble with both sweet & savoury crumbles. We also had two great teams running café’s; the already successful Manor Café and Bayfield’s Coffee about to open at the new Health Centre. Traditional & creative industries were represented by Dean Press letterpress printing and John Walton a new blacksmith who will offer “make your own” days. Anyone doing one might then want a day at The Saltbox in Nunney which combines business skills training with therapies.

The award was made at a gala event at Rook Lane Chapel. The judging panel, including Neil Howlett from Harris & Harris, with representatives from Superior Graphics, Old Mill Accountants, Sainsbury’s  and MDC gave the award of £1,000 to The Wax Factory, a business started by a student doing his A Levels. They were impressed by the comprehensive strengths of a young entrepreneur who is continuing to run his business while doing a degree. All the competitors will continue to get support from the sponsors and from Wessex Chambers Business Support advisors.

Harristocrats Win Charity Quiz

The Harris and Harris quiz team, the “Harristocrats”, made up of Adam Drew, Fiona Shillito, Val Hayes and Steve Cox has won the Monahan’s annual charity quiz for the third year running. Congratulations team! The money raised is in aid of St Margaret’s Hospice.


Harris & Harris Staff Scale New Heights!

Harris and Harris recently sponsored a charity abseil of Split Rock in Wookey to raise funds for St Margaret’s Hospice –

Well done to Adam Drew, Alison Englander, Andy Hambleton, Kathryn Lander and Joshua Eva for taking part in the event and conquering the notorious Split Rock abseil in support of St Margaret’s Hospice. Several members of the group overcame their fear of heights while other members clearly enjoyed the experience by racing to the bottom at break neck speed!

Total sponsorship came to £1,060 and we would like to thank everyone who donated so generously.


Wells Festival of Literature

Harris & Harris has supported the Festival for many years. This year we sponsored the talk by Somerset Artist Kate Lynch ‘A Taste of Honey’. She spoke about her new book ‘The Beekeeper and the Bee’. The audience shared her enthusiasm for the journey of the bee. Kate Lynch has produced two other books documenting Somerset’s rural industries:

‘Willow’ about willow growers and basket makers and ‘Sheep – from Lamb to Loom’ about shepherds and other people working with wool.

For more about Kate Lynch and her work see

For more about the festival see

Can you trust legal advice on the internet?

There are some very good resources on the internet.  For instance, I often refer people to for information about employment law.  The internet is an easy way for an organisation to publish information to a wide audience, which can be accessed 24 hours a day.   However, as with any publication, on the internet or elsewhere, the key questions are who is producing it and why.

Some years ago, when the internet was bright and shiny, Yahoo was a market leader and I was an “early adopter” I was asked by the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers to review the largest set of forms published on the internet for consumers to use, which was being made available through Tesco.   I looked at a small selection, in an area in which I knew what I was talking about.   I was very surprised to find that several of the forms were out of date, had incorrect statements of the law and were valueless.

A lot of “free” legal resources are primarily marketing tools.  Ask yourself who is providing the service and how are they paying for it.   That doesn’t have to be simply getting you to sign up for legal services, which may well be more expensive than using a solicitor.  In many cases these won;t be provided by the name on the Homepage but contracted to third party; Saga doesn’t provide legal advice, it comes through the Sga site from Paribas. Sometimes sites like this are basically adverts for claims management companies.   For instance, Law on the Web  is ultimately owned by DAS, a large insurance company, through a company that also owns a PPI claims management business.   The business model is opaque, but appears to be based on referral fees.

Although the site says prominently that it is “featured in” the Observer, a review of its advice on Evicting Tenants in the Guardian suggested that it was both wrong and out of date.   Do you have any remedy if you follow their advice?   Have you read their small print which excludes their liability for just about everything?    Although the front of the web site shows a serious looking man who used to be a solicitor, the Terms & Conditions make it clear that “the Proprietor is not a legal advisor” and that “none of the content of the Website is intended to be taken as advice or recommendation, professional or otherwise, and should not be relied upon by you in reaching any decision or conclusion”.   That rather raises the question what you can use it for?  Answers on a postcard please.

Their documents are “fully legally approved” but they disclaim any responsibility for their use – indeed they say “our online legal guidance can be very helpful, and it is certainly worth perusing it carefully before deciding to take the extra step of seeking professional legal advice.  However, reading about the law can never compare to truly knowing the law and having the guidance of an experienced solicitor…..”.  [my emphasis]

Neil Howlett




The Law on Self Defence

Self Defence seems to inflame tabloid journalists and public opinion and Home Office politicians more than any other aspect of the law (apart perhaps from the Human Rights Act). This is something of a mystery to lawyers, most of whom think the law is clear and fair. There is sometimes poor decision making about when to prosecute, but more often “wrong” cases are the result of inaccurate reporting.

The basic principles of self-defence date back to medieval times, but the modern formulation was set out in in a case called Palmer v R in 1971:

“It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.”

In assessing the reasonableness of the force used the benefit of the doubt goes to the person accused. The test is; on the basis of the facts as the accused honestly believed them to be, was the use of force necessary at all, and if it was the force used reasonable? In deciding that juries are invariably reminded of the formulation of Lord Morris in Palmer;

“If there has been an attack so that self-defence is reasonably necessary, it will be recognised that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his defensive action. If the jury thought that that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought necessary, that would be the most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken …”

That formulation has been adopted in the words of s.76 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, another bit of legislation that even the government accepted only repeated what the law already was. The Home Office always likes to be seen to be “doing something”.

Beyond that a Jury or Magistrates can take into account all the evidence in making a decision. There is no rule in law that a person must wait to be struck first, or that they must retreat. These are factors to be taken into account. The only factor defendants cannot rely upon is if they misunderstood the situation because they were drunk – imagine the injustices that could occur if they could.

Finally, if the there is sufficient evidence for the Defendant to raise Self Defence it is for the Prosecution to prove that it does not apply, “beyond reasonable doubt” (though in civil proceedings it is for the Defendant to prove it on the balance of probabilities). Before charging the CPS also have to consider whether it is in the public interest.

As an antidote to the tabloids consider the case of Mr David Summers, who burgled a flat in Peterborough. The two occupants beat him with a baseball bat, inflicting multiple injuries. They weren’t prosecuted and when he was sentence for burglary the Judge made it clear he had no sympathy for him and wasn’t going to give him any discount from his sentence because of his injuries.

Neil Howlett used to practice in Criminal Law

Up Before the Beak

Up Before the Beak

Harris & Harris’s office at Wells has been getting lots of new visitors this summer. They’ve been stopping to admire our swan, sponsored as part of the Swans of Wells project.

‘Up Before the Beak’ is particularly appropriate as it combines the views we have from the back of 14 Market Place onto the Bishop’s Palace with the swans in the moat with the history of the building. There have been lawyers in 14 Market Place almost continuously since it was built by Bishop Beckynton in 1451.

The Beak looks resplendent in his (or her?) wig and red gown, staring down through half-moon glasses. At 5ft high The Beak can look down quite disapprovingly!

Our Swan will be migrating at the end of the summer. Along with the other Swan of Wells “The Beak” goes under the hammer on 29 September at an auction at The Bishop’s Palace.

For more details see Swans of Wells 2012.

Frome Business Start- Up Competition

Neil Howlett with John Walton, Blacksmith and Isobel Noctor, Yumble Crumble

£1,000 prize money is up for grabs for the new businesses who enter the 2012 Frome & District New Business Start-up Competition.  Harris & Harris are supporting this initiative of Frome & District Chamber of Commerce and Wessex Chambers.

Neil Howlett, partner at Harris & Harris and President of Frome Chamber says, “Frome is a great place to start in business, and lots of people do.  We want to support them and help them grow.  Entering is easy, and doesn’t cost anything.“

The aim of the competition is to support and promote local start-up businesses.  As well as cash the competition offers new businesses a high profile and practical support from sponsors. It follows a successful pattern of competitions run by Wessex Chambers.

The contest is open to anyone from Frome and the surrounding area who started trading after 1 January 2011.  The winner will receive free publicity via media sponsors Somerset Standard and BBC Somerset, and all entrants are offered free practical help by HSBC, Old Mill, and Sainsbury’s.

The closing date is 5 October and the Final will be at Rook Lane Chapel, Frome, on Friday 9 November 2012.

For further information please contact Kate Preece, 01225 355553