PR UPDATE APRIL

Yorkshire developers could benefit from substantial business rates savings

Developers looking to renovate shops and offices in Yorkshire could stand to save thousands of pounds in business rates on the back of a landmark Supreme Court judgement, according to a leading local law firm. Lawyers at hlw Keeble Hawson cite the recent case of Newbigin vs Monk as a reason for local ratepayers and developers to seek immediate advice on their business rate liabilities. The case centred on a disagreement about the rateable value of a property in the North East that was being extensively redeveloped. The ratepayer argued that, because all of the services and installations had been stripped out as part of the refurbishment, the building should not be valued as if it was a useable office block. The Valuation Office (VO) disagreed, claiming that unless a building is beyond economic repair, it should be valued as a property capable of being put back into commercial use. “This is a massive financial difference and, in the end, the Supreme Court came down on the side of the ratepayer,” explained property litigation solicitor, Sarah Finnemore. “Although the question of whether a property is incapable of beneficial occupation will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, the judgement has sent out a very strong message. “It has huge implications for ratepayers and property developers across the Yorkshire region, because it provides support for ratepayers to potentially seek to have the rating list altered during redevelopment.” In the Newbigin vs Monk case, The Supreme Court held that the starting point for assessing rates in development cases should be to objectively evaluate whether a building is either in a state of disrepair or undergoing renovation works. It said the valuer can take into consideration the scheme of works which are being carried out on the material date for the purpose of making that assessment. The ratepayer said the rateable value should be £1, the VO said it should be £102,000.

The ups and downs of cloud storage for SMEs

There is huge interest among businesses in cloud storage at the moment because of the advantages claimed for a streamlined process that sees data stored on and accessed by the Internet, without the need for expensive software and applications on in-house hard-drives. Cloud storage providers claim they offer flexibility, portability and security to customers who place data on their remote servers. While it can be centralised and stored in one location, it is accessible anywhere via PCs, laptops, iPads, netbooks and mobile phones. Crucially, data backup and recovery should be automatic, which means that users should never have to worry about losing anything placed on the cloud. Don’t assume high security thresholds that will protect from hacking and attacks; you must ensure that the provider has these in place and that data is encrypted so that only authorised parties can read it. This is vital to comply with data protection legislation, especially the new EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Due to come into force in May 2018, penalties for violations could run to €20m and UK companies must prepare for and adhere to them for some time, despite the Brexit vote. Users may be charged for unwanted additional features, while they have no control over updates and software releases – and can also have limited control over how their data is hosted, stored and backed up, depending on which type of cloud system is used. Some storage services have set bandwidth allowances and additional charges may be levied if a client goes over allowance. Even with high bandwidth, network speeds can affect access and performance, while cloud connection can be impaired if too many people are online. Remember, should you be without Internet access for any reason, you cannot access your data. Businesses may find that the costs of cloud computing are not as competitive as they thought, especially for small amounts of data or over limited periods. It all means that you must ensure you know what your business does and doesn’t need from cloud storage - and understand fully whether there is a fit with what the vendor is selling you. Consider which type of cloud system is best for you - public cloud on third parties’ shared physical hardware, private cloud for greater levels of control and security, or a hybrid of the two, where the public cloud is used for non-critical information and the private for sensitive material? Get guarantees on levels of security, performance, allowances, bandwidth, what services you will be paying for and the backup systems in place to protect data from being lost. It is critical that you read and understand the service level agreements (SLAs) before signing up. And if there are areas you don’t understand, seek professional advice before making a commitment; invariably, this will be a far smaller outlay than being stuck with the wrong choice. There is no doubt that cloud storage offers many advantages in terms of cost savings, efficiencies and convenience. However, it is a complex, fast-changing field and it is important that you have somebody who knows the landscape to guide you through it. However, businesses must also be aware that there are pitfalls and dangers to cloud services.

Dealmaker Michael Hall joins hlw Keeble Hawson

Dealmaker Michael Hall has joined hlw Keeble Hawson’s corporate department as an associate.

With a solid track record in advising major groups on all aspects of corporate transactions, Michael specialises in mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, partnerships and LLPs. The development comes hot on the heels of Matt Ainsworth, joining the firm’s 16-strong corporate team as partner. hlw Keeble Hawson managing partner Paul Trudgill said: “Michael’s appointment marks another step in our strategic development as we further expand the top talent of our corporate department in a formative year.” Michael said: “It’s tremendous to be part of hlw Keeble Hawson’s high-profile growth strategy and join a team which has amassed a powerful and well-deserved reputation across Yorkshire and the North of England.”

hlw Keeble Hawson partner bows out after four decades in profession

Chris Wilson, a corporate partner at hlw Keeble Hawson, retires this week after a career stretching back into the 1970s.

Qualifying in 1976, Wilson began his career predominantly practicing divorce and criminal law at Sheffield-based Russell & Creswick where he became senior partner. He remained with the firm through its 2005 merger with hlw - and its subsequent merger with Keeble Hawson in 2011. Wilson has spent more than two decades advising the region's SMEs on corporate and commercial commissions including acquisitions and disposals, management buyouts, management buy-ins - and shareholder agreements. A rugby enthusiast, Wilson was president of Sheffield Rugby Club from 2012-2014 where he is a member and a former player.

"The legal landscape has undergone far-reaching changes - both technological and in the way lawyers provide legal services - since I embarked on my career," said Wilson.

"I've enjoyed making a positive contribution to hlw Keeble Hawson's development and wish the firm every success as it continues to go from strength to strength.“

hlw Keeble Hawson managing partner Paul Trudgill added: "Chris is highly respected as a talented and approachable lawyer who has been instrumental to the development of our corporate team - one of the largest of its kind in the region. He will be missed by his colleagues and we wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement."

Useful advice to protect SMEs in legal disputes

There is a useful legal protection for businesses involved in a dispute which may allow them to make admissions, or offer settlement to the other side, without being disadvantaged. The protection is designed to encourage negotiations and agreement outside Court. An early resolution can in turn help avoid high legal costs, wasted time, stress and the distraction of litigation. If a writer sends a letter to another party with a heading “without prejudice”, it can become privileged information. The letter establishes they are sharing information without weakening, or prejudicing, their own position. Furthermore, if it satisfies certain criteria and none of the exceptions apply, it cannot be used as evidence for, or against, the party in any future Court or employment tribunal proceedings. There are two conditions that prevent ‘without prejudice’ written or verbal statements being submitted to the Courts as proof of damaging admissions by either side in a case. Firstly, there must be an ongoing dispute between the two parties, and secondly, any statement must be a genuine attempt to settle it. The Court can examine the substance of any communication to assess whether it is legally privileged. This privilege belongs to everyone who is party to it. It means that if parties are unable to reach a settlement and the case ends up in court, a letter or statement cannot be used, without the other side’s permission. The issue is crucial as it could affect the outcome of a hearing. In a recent case, (Gresham Pension Trustees v Cammack, 2016), the Court of Appeal set aside an earlier order where the judge had relied on an attendance note put before him by one party. The note seemed to imply that it was a record of discussions that were without prejudice. However, the other side had not waived its legal privilege and, as a result, the note was inadmissible as evidence. This illustrates the wisdom of considering if any communication will attract the “Without prejudice” privilege. It also highlights that if, at a future date, the writer wants the Court to see it, would they be happy to ask for their opponent’s permission. At the end of the case a party may want to be able to show a reasonable offer to the Court to support an argument that the opposing party should pay its costs. This is done by using Calderbank offers – which are headed “Without prejudice save as to costs” - and where appropriate Part 36 offers. Subject to the relevant criteria being met, these letters work by enabling a party to let their opponent know what they will accept or offer to resolve a dispute but their opponent is not allowed to present the letter to the Court until the end of the case when the Court has already decided the merits of the claim. Although the “Without prejudice” rule and its related measures are intended to avoid court proceedings, it is still important to take legal advice at an early stage. By doing so, SMEs will ensure that their position is protected, and that they stand the best chance of an early settlement and cost protection.

Owens: “A Wretchedly Unhappy Marriage” And What Is Unreasonable Behaviour?

Contested divorces are rare. I have undertaken three in my 30-year career on behalf of the Petitioner.

All were successful with the grounds found by the judge to be established after hearing evidence from the parties. Such cases are very upsetting for all sides, as the dirty linen of many years of unhappy marriage is washed in a public court.

So I considered with interest the decision of the Court of Appeal in Owens v Owens.

Mr and Mrs Owens married in 1978 and separated in February 2015 when she moved out of the family home into a rented property. In May 2015 she submitted a petition to court based on her husband’s behaviour. She alleged that he had prioritised his work during their marriage (although he was now retired), he had mood swings and was unpleasant to her on social occasions causing her to be embarrassed. There were other allegations but this was the gist of the petition and there was no doubt that Mrs Owens was in a very unhappy marriage. Her case came before HH J Tolson, who gave his judgement on 15 January 2016, having heard evidence from both parties. He found that the petition allegations were not sufficiently significant to entitle Mrs Owens to her divorce. The Court of Appeal’s decision on 24 March 2017 was that it had no choice but to uphold the earlier ruling and refuse the appeal. The trial judge had gone through an “anodyne” set of allegations with the husband and the wife and decided that they were not bad enough to warrant “behaviour such as the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with”. He found that they were exaggerated and were part of marriage. The Court of Appeal could not find a fault with the way in which the law had been applied and it was mentioned that parliament had decreed that it is not a ground for divorce to find yourself in a wretchedly unhappy marriage. The Court of Appeal had a lot of sympathy with Mrs Owens and hoped that Mr Owens would relent and permit her to divorce him on two years’ separation, rather than waiting five years, until February 2020 – which is essential without his consent. The appeal judges took time to criticise at length the current “hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty” of our current divorce law. Unless couples are prepared to wait two years and to separate immediately in order to start that period running, they have no choice but to “think up some allegations” for a behaviour petition. The appeal judges made it clear that they had no criticism of the solicitors dealing with these issues every week and that the “anodyne petition” which is such a feature of a divorce lawyer’s working life was necessary to achieve a divorce in some circumstances. There is concern among divorce lawyers that the refusal of Mrs Owen’s petition will mean many more specific unpleasant divorce petitions in future to prevent the risk of a contested case being unsuccessful for the Petitioner. The husband was not willing to agree to a divorce on these grounds and contested the case.

Trustees’ workshop puts spotlight on employment law pitfalls A workshop in Leeds on May 23 will advise charity board trustees on good governance in the fast-moving area of employment law. Hosted by hlw Keeble Hawson at the firm’s offices in Capitol House, Russell Street, ‘How to avoid the pitfalls of employment law’ will be held in partnership with the Small Charities Coalition. Covering four key themes – the legal status of charity employees, workers and volunteers; their rights; how to deal with potential claims; and steps to minimise risk – the session will be presented by hlw Keeble Hawson associate and employment expert, Lauren Fulcher. With almost a decade’s experience, Lauren acts mainly on behalf of employers and regularly works with charities to ensure their employment law needs are met. Lauren said: “Employment law is subject to rapid changes and charities are as responsible as any other organisation to keep up to speed. They are likewise under great scrutiny with trustees potentially personally liable if things go wrong. We will equip attendees with valuable insights they can put to use in their respective charities.”

Separation seminar puts spotlight on amicable ways of parting

A collaboration of family professionals will equip people undergoing separation or divorce with tips and techniques on how to part amicably.

The “Separating Sensibly” seminar at hlw Keeble Hawson, Capitol House, Russell St, Leeds LS1 5SP on May 8 will outline the benefits of reducing stress and disruption, particularly in situations where children are involved. The second event of its kind to be hosted by the firm will be jointly presented by Vanessa Fox and Antony Ball from the family law department and mortgage and protection advisor, Polly Ker from Optimum Financial Solutions. The session will also include relationship and life coach support. Exploring the legal, financial and emotional dimensions to parting, the free of charge event is open to anyone going through a separation as well as friends of those who are separating or anyone with a professional interest. Vanessa Fox said: “During my lengthy career, I have had experience of the many short-term and long-term advantages to an amicable separation. The seminar will highlight how couples can reduce stress, trauma and disruption for themselves and their families if they work in partnership, and also access financial, emotional and legal support at an early stage.” Polly Ker said: “People often lose sight of practicalities at highly traumatic times. Making the right decisions about money and living arrangements can be difficult, and our aim is to help them achieve this through cooperation.”

From a life coach point of view, separation provokes a variety of emotions and the seminar will discuss ways to manage these and to refocus and face the future with confidence.

A question and answer session will be included and attendees can discuss specific issues on a one-to-one basis with all speakers.

To book your place for the May 8 seminar which runs from 5.30pm-7.30pm go to www.separatingsensibly.co.uk .

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