LIFE BITE: DOJ announces increase in amount of Bereavement Damages

apple-150579_1280Today, the Northern Ireland Department of Justice has announced that bereavement damages available in Northern Ireland are to be increased from £11,800 to £14,400.

This follows the consultation launched by the Department in October 2015 about whether the level of compensation payable to families whose loved ones have been needlessly killed in Northern Ireland should be increased.  The DOJ consultation paper stated that any increase in the bereavement damages should either bring Northern Ireland in line with England and Wales at £12,980, or with the level of inflation, estimated at £14,339.

After consultation, the Department has agreed that bereavement damages in Northern Ireland will be increased by inflation, rounded to the nearest £100, and will be adjusted every three years. Northern Ireland will now have higher bereavement damages than England and Wales.  The system in Scotland remains that each case is judged and evaluated on its own merits.

Martin Hanna, NI representative of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and partner in Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors says:

“This is a fantastic result for Northern Ireland citizens who up to now received less bereavement damages in Northern Ireland than anyone else in the United Kingdom. Whilst no amount of money can ever replace a loved one, bereavement damages do at least acknowledge that a death has been caused needlessly.  The level of payment previously available was woefully inadequate and so the DOJ announcement of this increase is a step in the right direction.”

For more information on bereavement damages, feel free to contact Martin at mhanna@fhanna.co.uk or contact us at Life Law Ni here

LIFE BITE: Men’s Advisory Project calls for more help for male domestic abuse victims

apple-150579_1280The Men’s Advisory Project have called for more help to be made available to male victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. 

The organisation has said that they have seen a notable increase in people coming to them for help – they supported 536 clients in 2015 compared to 294 in 2013. 
The most recent figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that 3,104 men were victims of domestic violence between August 2014 and 2015.

James Knox, the project manager at the Men’s Advisory Project, has highlighted that the support services available for male domestic abuse victims in Northern Ireland are less extensive than for women.

James said: “While the PSNI’s gender-neutral poster campaign is a step in the right direction, there is more that could be done.  If there was more help available for male victims of domestic abuse it would save lives.”

To find out more about the Men’s Advisory Project,  read our ‘LifeSupports’ blog from them or contact MAP at www.mapni.co.uk

For more information on domestic violence, please click here or contact us here.

LIFE BITE: How Private are your Private Emails in the Workplace?

apple-150579_1280Have you ever wondered whether your boss is legally permitted to read personal emails that you have sent to friends and family from your work email account?

Well, in light of a recent Court judgment it seems that they are.

In  the judgment of the case of Barbulescu v Romania which was handed down on 12th January 2016 by the The European Court of Human Rights, the Court held that there is no violation of your right to respect for private life and correspondence if your employer monitors personal emails that you send whilst at work .

What is expected of an employee and an employer is usually set out in the contract of employment.  However,  a contract does not have to be in writing and terms can be established in a manner of ways, either expressly, impliedly or through custom and practice.

It should not be that surprising that an implied term of a contract of employment is that when an employee is at work,  they should devote all of their time and attention to their work, not privately messaging friends or loved ones or using the internet for their own personal matters. Many employers have specific email and internet policies in place to counter such misuse.

In this particular case,  Mr Barbulescu was an engineer who used a Yahoo Messenger account, specifically set up for business purposes, to send and receive personal messages with his fiancée and his brother.  His employer, discovering this accidentally, dismissed him considering it to be in breach of his employment contract

Mr Barbulescu argued that the Romanian courts should have excluded all evidence of his personal correspondence on the grounds it infringed his Article 8 right that is the right to respect for private life and correspondence.   Mr Carbulescu’s employer’s internal regulations strictly prohibited employees from using the company’s computers and resources for personal purposes however, it was disputed whether the Mr Barbulescu had been given prior notice that his communications could have been monitored and their content accessed and eventually disclosed.

The issue before the ECJ was whether the right to respect for private life and correspondence is breached if employers monitor employees’ personal communications at work? The answer was a resounding no, subject to reasonableness/proportionality.

The ECJ held that although Article 8 was engaged,  the Romanian courts were entitled to look at that evidence in deciding whether Mr Barbulescu’s dismissal was fair.  The European Court was persuaded by the fact that the Romanian court judgment did not reveal the precise content of the personal messages, but only that they were personal messages.   Also, only the Yahoo Messenger account, which the parties agreed was set up for business purposes was accessed by his employer – not other documents and data stored on Mr Barbulescu’s computer.

The Court therefore found “that it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours.”

MGavinThis Life Bite was provided by Mary Gavin, Associate Solicitor in the Employment Law Department  of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors.  If you would like further informaiotn on this area of law, please contact Mary Gavin on mgavin@fhanna.co.uk or contact us at Life Law NI here.

Protecting Yourself from Domestic Abuse: Advice from a PSNI Domestic Abuse Officer

PSNIdomesticabuse

Domestic Abuse is a problem within our society as a whole and an issue that the PSNI are increasingly trying to address.

Sergeant Joanne Eakin is a Domestic Abuse Officer with the Belfast Public Protection Unit within the PSNI.   In her guest blog for Life Law NI, Sergeant Eakin provides some useful advice on protecting yourself from domestic abuse.

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Working as a Domestic Abuse Officer within the Belfast Public Protection Unit of the PSNI, I have witnessed my fair share of domestic crimes against both men and women.

The PSNI believe that domestic abuse should not be tolerated and that it is not acceptable in any shape or form in today’s society. Therefore, within the PSNI there are specially trained officers like myself who deal with those victims who are at a risk of serious harm due to the domestic abuse.

I believe that one of the most important things for any victim suffering from domestic abuse to recognise is when it is happening to them and to accept that they are not to blame. Here is my professional advice to those who are suffering domestic abuse or know someone else who is:

I want to escape an abusive relationship – what can I do?

If you are in an abusive relationship and want to leave, follow the advice below to make sure you do not put yourself in unnecessary danger:-

  • Seek legal advice. You might be able to get an injunction or Orders to protect you from your abuser after you leave.
  • Get immediate medical help for any injuries you sustain. Record and photograph them.
  • Take anything that will identify your abuser, such as a recent photo or car details, to help others protect you.
  • Be extra careful about who you discuss your plans with because secrecy will increase your success.
  • Take a note of emergency numbers and people you can contact (family, friends, doctors etc). Programme them into your mobile if you have one.
  • Prepare a bag with essential items, such as clothes, keys and money. Get extra copies of your home or car keys. Keep it safe or give it to someone you trust.
  • Keep important documents, such as birth certificates, mortgage papers or passports, in a safe location. If possible, take any items of personal importance with you, such as photographs or jewellery.
  • Talk to your children about the possibility of leaving and try to take them with you, whatever the long-term arrangements might be.
  • Plan an escape route out of your home and teach this to your children.
  • Keep a note of the family’s essential medicines and have an immediate supply available.
I know someone who is in an abusive relationship – how can I help them?

If you have a friend or family member who is being abused, there are practical things you can do to help them:-

  • Find out information about your friend / love one’s rights and the services available so they can make informed choices – for example, contact specialist support agencies such as Women’s Aid who can provide practical and emotional support.
  • Agree a code word or action that if he/she says to you or you see, you know they’re in danger and cannot access help alone.
  • Find out information for your friend / loved one so they can make informed choices.
  • Get some support yourself. You have to be strong if you’re going to be able to help them. Most domestic abuse services are happy to help with any worries you may have or provide suggestions as to other actions you might take.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up on them. You might be their only lifeline.

Useful points of contact

There is much support in Northern Ireland for victims of domestic abuse. If you are suffering from domestic abuse or know someone who is, here are some useful contacts:-

Police Service of Northern Ireland

For non-emergency calls and general enquiries, call 101.

In the case of an emergency dial 999 or use the emergency text phone by texting 18000

24 Hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline

This line is available to anyone who has concerns about domestic or sexual violence, now or in the past. It is open to all women and men affected by domestic and sexual violence. Please call 0808 802 1414

Women’s Aid

Women’s Aid is the national domestic violence charity that helps up to 250,000 women and children every year. They work to end violence against women and children and support over 350 domestic and sexual violence services across the country. Call Women’s Aid on 0808 802 1414 or visit their website www.womensaidni.org

Men’s Advisory Project

This is an excellent service for men experiencing domestic abuse. Call on 028 9024 1929 or visit their website www.mapni.co.uk

Your GP

Your local GP can offer help and support. Many people experiencing abuse believe that their GP can be trusted with disclosure and can offer practical support.

Social Services

Social Services can provide practical assistance and guidance to those suffering from domestic abuse. Contact your local Social Services office for more information.

Domestic Abuse is a serious offence which no one should have to suffer. If you are the victim of such abuse or know of someone who is suffering, please contact the PSNI for advice and assistance.

Sergeant Joanne Eakin│Domestic Abuse │Belfast Public Protection Unit

If you would like any further information on domestic abuse please contact us here at Life Law NI

Top Tips for First Time Buyers

first-time-buyer

So, you’ve decided that now is the time to take the plunge and set your feet firmly on the property market by buying your first home.

Though buying property can be an exciting time for many, it can also be a daunting experience and will be one of the largest financial commitments you will make in life.

So what kind of issues should you be considering when house-hunting?

1. Know your budget

It is important before you get going to seek the advice of an independent financial adviser to find out how much of a mortgage you could be given by a lender and how much of a balance you will have to pay towards the property from your own savings.

A deposit of around 10% of the house price is normally required but the more you can put down to begin with, the better the mortgage deal you will be able to get.

Be realistic about your lifestyle after you move into the property and don’t overstretch yourself in your monthly mortgage commitments. Remember you will also have other outlays before you get your keys such as legal fees, additional surveys, mortgage product fees and stamp duty so be sure to figure them into your budget along with any costs for redecorating and furniture.

2. Research! Research! Research!

It’s a little odd that we make a commitment to spend a very large sum of money based on a quick walk round a property, possibly with other potential buyers present.  When you are viewing a property you like, ask as many questions as you can;  When was that sunroom built?  Does it have planning permission?  Is there a warranty?  Who are your neighbours?  Who owns that massive tree overhanging the garden and who is responsible for trimming it?

Get a second viewing of the property and consider commissioning your own survey – remember, a survey carried out for mortgage purposes is for the bank’s protection, not yours.

If you don’t already live in the area, then visit the location at several different times of the day and night, weekday and weekend.  The character of a neighbourhood can really change depending on the time of day. Check the amount of rates payable for that area. Check out local schools, transport routes and sports facilities. Ask yourself; “Is this somewhere I really want to live?”

3. Be aware of ‘common areas’

Many new developments and apartment blocks will have common areas containing stairs, lifts and common recreational space.

All apartments should have the benefit of a management company who look after the maintenance and insurance of common areas – this is also common in many new developments.

The weeding of all those flowerbeds isn’t cheap and so to maintain and insure the common areas of a development or apartment block, each resident is required to pay an annual service charge to the company managing the development or apartments.  This charge may be over £100.00 per month and in some developments substantially more. The estate agent showing you around the property should be able to give you an idea of the service charge before you place your offer. Ask yourself can you afford this as well as your other outgoings.

4. Make yourself an attractive purchaser

Demand for property is now strong and you want to have the competitive edge if you are bidding on a new home. The key to this is being prepared:-

  • Have a mortgage agreement in principle in place – this is a document from your chosen lender saying they are happy to lend to you.
  • Have proof that you have the deposit monies in your bank account.
  • Return calls to the estate agent promptly.

Showing that you are keen and engaged can go a long way to securing your property. Speak to a solicitor in advance and know who you are going to appoint to represent you in the purchase of the property

Above all else, don’t get caught up in the excitement and either over-commit yourself financially, or end up in a property you like, but don’t love. Take your time to make the right choices to ensure that in the end, there really is no place like home.
Happy house hunting!
RFlinnRuth Flinn is a solicitor in the Property Law department of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors.                                                  If you require any further information on buying a house or if you would like a free no-obligation quote, please contact Ruth on rflinn@fhanna.co.uk

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