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Thank you to everyone who attended our webinar on the Rights and Obligations of Teenagers and Young Persons last night. You all helped to make it such a friendly and welcoming environment for discussion. It was wonderful that everyone was willing to share their ideas and that we had such a wide range of perspectives, from those of us with a background in the law to those of us wanting to understand it better in order to protect ourselves or our children.

The presentation was divided up by questions which we then split into smaller groups to discuss. Lots of interesting things came out of these discussions. Those of us with a background in the law were able to elucidate certain points and answer others’ questions. For instance, until yesterday I would have said that the answer to whether a 25-year-old would be sent to an adult prison was an obvious ‘yes’; but I found out in the webinar that there are actually prisons specifically for 18 to 25-year-olds. I found this very interesting and didn’t quite understand it, until Esra, a paralegal at De Jure, pointed out that these years form a stage of key development in our lives when most people are going to college or university, so prisoners of that age should be provided with extra support. We also had a really interesting conversation about data protection and whether a police superintendent could legally ask a GP to release information on one of their patients. Stephan, a parent attending the webinar, made the point that unless the superintendent had a court order, he would be asking for this confidential medical information for his own use, which means it should not be released. It makes you realise the psychological power of a uniform and a high rank; but also that we should remember that it is only a uniform, and try not to be intimidated, especially as young people.   

We also talked about who we would call first if we got into trouble with the police, and a lot of us said our parents. Eric, another of the parents at the webinar, asked what the best thing would be to do after receiving a call like that from your child. The answer was to get in touch with a solicitor – lawyers understand the police and how they work much better than we do. They’ll be able to do things like obtain disclosure from the police about what exactly it is you’re being questioned for, and advise you on how best to answer those questions. What’s more, if you’re under 18 and in police custody then the police should inform a responsible adult of your whereabouts immediately and you should have a responsible adult present as well as the free legal aid to which you are entitled. Paul, who was leading the discussion, also stressed the importance of our right to remain silent – and in general it seemed to me that the main takeaway of the webinar was to know our rights and to exercise them. For instance, most of us have heard of ‘stop and search’, but lots of people (including me until yesterday) haven’t heard of ‘stop and account’. This is when the police can stop you in the street and question you, but you’re not legally obliged to answer their questions unless they believe you have been engaging in anti-social behaviour. You should always make sure to ask them on what grounds they’ve stopped you. If you think you’re being detained unlawfully then you should take note of their badge number and get in touch with a solicitor.

At the beginning of the seminar we discussed whether Joseph, a 17-year-old, was a teenager, young adult, youth, or child. Most of us said he was a teenager and I don’t think any of us said he was a child. But of course legally he is a child, as we were reminded: the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as ‘anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday.’ We then discussed whether a 10-year-old could be arrested and, although it seems strange, since the age of criminal responsibility is 10, they can. However, the seriousness of a child’s crime will play a large part in the decision over whether to arrest and prosecute. The recent example in the UK of the murder of a 13-year-old boy by two 14-year-olds is a case of an extremely serious, and also clearly pre-meditated, crime committed by children. Because of the age of the defendants, the counsel didn’t wear their wigs and gowns, which is an instance of the special circumstances under which children are tried in youth courts. Others are that they will be tried earlier so as to avoid long and stressful waiting periods, and if sentenced will be sent to special secure centres for young people rather than prisons.

Most arrests of young people over the last year have probably been due to the increased number of protests happening up and down the country, notably those over the death of Sarah Everard and the police brutality at her vigil, and those of the Black Lives Matter movement. As well as this, police have been arresting children for violating lockdown rules and also fining them, despite fines only being applicable to adults aged 18 and over. It’s safe to say there is a heightened level of tension between young people and the police currently. It’s important to know your rights so you are never taken advantage of, but it’s also important to take responsibility for your own behaviour and decisions: who you are choosing to associate yourself with, what kind of environment you are placing yourself in. Obviously these decisions are far more difficult to make for some people than they are for others, and there are systematic inequalities and injustices at play in that discrepancy; nonetheless, Ilirjana, who has worked with young offenders before, pointed out the harsh truth that while being in the wrong place at the wrong time is frequently offered as an excuse, it is rarely accepted as one.

Paul wishes to draw attention to the fact that there was a disproportionately small amount of BAME people who attended the webinar, and wants to encourage more BAME people to attend in future. The Black Lives Matter protests have generated lots of discussion in the UK media about the relationship between the police and British black people. It’s tempting to think of police racism and brutality as an American problem, but Steve McQueen’s recent series ‘Small Axe’ incisively documents the history of police injustice towards London’s West Indian community. Our history informs our present day; the two are not divorced from one another but are symbiotic, so our world is still shaped by inequality. While it is unfair that the onus should fall on young people to take precautions rather than rely on the system to be fair, prioritising your safety is the most important thing. It’s really important to get to know your rights. Attending free, informative webinars like this one is a good place to start. Paul hopes to hold many more in the future, as he believes everyone should have access to justice and wants to contribute towards achieving this goal.

 

Author: Isobel Macleod

 

If you are seeking advice on any of the issues discussed in this blog, or would like more information, please feel free to contact De Jure Chambers on 01223 643580 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to help.

 

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Published in News
Monday, 26 July 2021 15:34

Covidgate

In terms of its size and scope, the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Still ongoing after sixteen months, it has claimed the lives of 4.5 million people globally – as of today’s date, 14th July 2021. The pandemic has forced governments everywhere to learn how well they do in a crisis, and the Cameroonian government has been no exception. Unfortunately, a recent audit of the government’s use of funds has revealed gross mismanagement and embezzlement, in a scandal which is now being dubbed “Covidgate”.

Cameroonian newspapers were running scathing headlines throughout the end of May which lambasted the ‘culture of corruption’ at work in the government and called on officials to resign, or even to be put behind bars,s as punishment for their involvement in Covidgate.[1] But what actually happened? To answer this question, it’s best to begin with the ‘Special National Solidarity Fund for the fight against coronavirus and its economic and social repercussions,’ endowed with 180 billion CFA francs for the 2020 financial year. As is clear from its name, this fund was meant solely to aid in the fight against coronavirus, which is stipulated yet further in the allocation decree published alongside it by the Prime Minister on the 3rd of June 2020, laying out in clear legislation twenty-six tasks which were to be carried out using this money. These tasks included financing a track and trace system, funding research into the virus, locally producing pharmaceutical products to care for patients with the virus, developing a long-distance learning system, distributing educational tools and supports in rural areas, and supporting socially vulnerable people and homeless children affected by the virus.   The tasks were further divided into action plans, then grouped and assigned to different government departments. In other words, the uses for which this money was intended could not have been made any clearer. So how is it that, one year on, many Cameroonians are asking, ‘Where is that 180 billion francs?’[2] How is it that, as the impassioned letter from twenty leading Cameroonian women to the IMF – who loaned Cameroon the money – states: ‘Cameroonians died from Covid-19 because tests were unavailable, because oxygen was unavailable and because personal protective equipment was unavailable’?[3]

The reasons are laid out in excruciating detail in the Chamber of Accounts’ independent audit of the Special National Solidarity Fund, provided for in decrees passed back in June by the President, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Finance, along with the decree for the fund itself, and commissioned in March this year. The audit tells a story of vast overspending, unwillingness to be transparent or to keep records and accounts, probable corruption in the selection of companies to buy from, carelessness, mistakes, and innumerable irregularities. The audit focusses on the Ministry of Public Health (MINSANTE) and the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation (MINRESI) since they were the ones to use up the most of their total budget, and indeed went well over their budget in many tasks. For example, 43% more than the allocated budget was spent on requisitioning hotels for use as quarantine premises, which means the hotel sector, already disproportionally affected by the pandemic, was hit with outstanding payments.

When it comes to overspending, however, the most notorious case, and probably the one being discussed the most in the media, is the overspending on rapid tests. MINSANTE bought 94.93% of their tests from a company called Mediline Medical Cameroon SA, effectively giving them a monopoly over the market. However, Mediline Medical Cameroon SA charged £13.66 (10, 415 FCFA) more than the manufacturer. If MINSANTE had ordered the tests directly from the manufacturer they would have saved Cameroon £19, 122, 803.49 (14, 581, 884, 800 FCFA). MINSANTE also had the option of purchasing tests from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, who were selling tests at a unit price of £3.86 (2, 932.30 FCFA). Yet they still chose to buy tests for a unit price of £23.04 (17, 500 FCFA) from Mediline Medical Cameroon SA. Why choose such an expensive option? The decision to do so becomes even more fishy in the light of the Chamber’s discovery that Mediline Medical Cameroon SA’s bank balance was nil on the 1st of January 2020, and it was only in June – around the time decisions were being made over which company to award contracts to – that movement began in their account. This behaviour would seem to suggest a vested interest in the choice to spend excessive amounts on rapid screening tests when much more affordable options were available: a suspicion confirmed when it came to light that Mohamadou Dabo, a well-known businessman, holds shares in Mediline Medical Cameroon SA. This was the influential personality benefitting from the decision to overspend on rapid screening tests. Dabo also turned out to own the company called Moda Holdings Hong Kong, which charged disproportionate amounts for the transport of the tests purchased by Mediline Medical Cameroon SA – transport, as it turns out, that Moda Holdings did not even provide. The bill for transport was invoiced to the Ministry of Health, and Mediline Medical transferred a large sum of money to Moda Holdings bank account in Hong Kong, a city which is notorious as a tax haven.

That a task had not been characterised by overspending does not mean that it was performed well. For that matter, it’s worth noting that the audit only records two of the eighteen tasks it investigated as having been completed successfully. Often, where MINSANTE and MINRESI hadn’t overspent, they had instead vastly underspent, seeming to neglect their duties and leave certain districts and sectors stranded without financial aid. For example, despite there being a pressing need for drugs to treat Covid-19 in hospitals and treatment centres, the budget for acquiring and distributing these drugs was consumed at an alarmingly slow rate, and a significant amount of it was spent on normal hospital equipment and pharmaceutical products rather than the Covid-19 drugs for which it was specifically provided. Similarly, the budget for Covid-19 screening and community-based surveillance was split completely evenly between the districts, even though some had a much greater need than others. There is still roughly 3.3 billion FCAF available in this fund, which the Chamber suggests should be given immediately to the districts in direst need. Similar in turn to this is the decision to award 157 billion FCFA to the city of Yaoundé for public hygiene and sanitation costs, and 49.5 Million FCFA to the rest of the country, a significant imbalance without apparent justification. The money was intended to be distributed according to need, with much of it given to the municipalities since they were on the frontline. Yet the municipalities had to fund the sanitisation of their public environments out of their own pocket, because the money wasn’t made available to them in time.

Some more tasks which have become notorious for their failings are the fitting out of isolation units for patients with Covid-19, the delivery of ambulances, and the acquisition of drugs to treat the virus. Only one of the eleven isolation centres that were to be built as a matter of urgency has been able to accommodate patients. The ambulances simply never turned up. One reporter summarised this situation by saying, with a slight note of bemused desperation: ‘from the 880,000,000 francs spent on this operation, not a single ambulance has been delivered!... Seven months we’ve been waiting for these ambulances, and the ambulances never came.’[4] As for the acquisition of drugs, Madeleine Tchuente, the head of MINRESI, proposed that they should be produced in Cameroon, and gained the President’s approval to manufacture five million hydroxychloroquine tablets and five million azithromycin tablets. However, instead of having them manufactured, she ordered 5 million hydroxychloroquine tablets, 500, 000 azithromycin tablets and 300 kgs of azithromycin from India, which she then paid to repackage in labels which said the drugs had been manufactured in Cameroon. The Chamber noted how this latter was particularly wasteful since ‘the medicine had [already] entered Cameroon in packaging which respected good manufacturing and packaging practice.’ The audit in general was a record of financial management that, in the words of one reporter, was ‘drowning in irregularities.’[5] This included, but wasn’t limited to, work being carried out on buildings without record of the owner’s approval; over-ordering medical equipment so there weren’t enough warehouses to store it – meaning it was then exposed to the elements to be damaged, stolen or misplaced; no records made of medical equipment stocks and therefore no way of finding out where it ended up; MINSANTE distributing 2,000 defective PPE suits and in one case delivering masks where suits had been ordered.

Another worrying trend was that of a resistance to demands for transparency. MINSANTE set up a working group in April 2020 under the authority of Manaouda Malachie, the Minister of Public Health, which was to make progress reports on the tasks as they were carried out. Yet when the Chamber of Accounts requested the working group’s minutes and consultation files, they had no response. The Chamber also asked for the Working Group’s patient charts and reports on the thirty contracts they had been given to acquire medical equipment, and were also ignored. This bodes badly, especially in light of what little records there are showing things like five contracts for the procurement of medical equipment being given to companies owned by Abakar Sidiki Diaby, who happens to be related to Ousmane Diaby, President of the Working Group; and like Yaoundé’s contracts for hygiene and sanitation of public environments all given to a company called ETS African Distribution, which was created on the 14th of February 2020 and has no experience in hygiene and sanitation. These both allude to vested interests similar to that which motivated the decision to buy solely from the expensive company Mediline Medical Cameroon SA. The Chamber wanted to understand the selection criteria for awarding contracts to service providers, and the two departments’ reluctance to provide this information does nothing to relieve suspicions that the process had corrupt aims. Actions for Development and Empowerment (ADE) and Follow the Money Cameroon, two organisations that advocate for openness and accountability in public finance, have launched the Covid-19 Transparency and Accountability project (CTAP). Executive director of ADE, Ndi Nancy Saiboh, said, ‘We are proud to be leveraging the Follow the Money platform to activate a Pan-African tracking system for all Covid-19 funds received and donated to these countries.’ Together with BudgIT, Global Integrity, and the Scoll Foundation, they ‘join [their] voice with citizens’ to call for ‘effective accountability mechanisms’ and push the National Anti-Corruption Commission to ‘thoroughly investigate procurement fraud and mishandling of COVID 19 related funding and resources.’[6]

The results of the Chamber of Accounts’ audit were not published at first, and the IMF faced pressure from the Human Rights Watch to make its publication a condition of a second loan, in order to ‘press for deep-seated governance reforms that will improve Cameroon’s transparency and accountability.’[7] The audit was leaked online in May to a shocked and angry reception, after which it was finally publicised through official channels. Its findings have provoked expressions of frustration, outrage, and a deep sense of betrayal, both in the media and among the general public. On the 24th of May, newspaper L’Avenir’s front page was a picture of four ministers below the headline, ‘Il Veut Les Envoyer à Kondengui’ suggesting that they should be put in prison. Quotidien Émergence echoed this sentiment with ‘Everyone Must Answer for Their Actions’, and L’Anecdote’s headline was ‘The Noose is Tightening Around 12 Ministers’ Necks.’ Videos have been circulating online which prove that this rage is not limited to the media but is also shared by the general populace. One was entitled ‘Covidgate Cameroun: High Treason’, and it listed all the names of the ministers thought to be involved, while one man spoke about these ministers’ ‘criminal and unacceptable’ actions. The video ended with instructions to ‘remember their names and faces’ because ‘when public funds are stolen, the people deserve a public trial!’ People were understandably angered by an audit which showed that, while they were suffering through the pandemic, there had been money available which was designated specifically to alleviating that suffering; but MINSANTE and MINRESI, along with many other ministry departments, cannot account for where that money has gone. Many people have concluded that it has been embezzled, and now lines the pockets of people like Mahamadou Dabo.

This crisis of corruption has been linked by some to the Anglophone crisis. There have been adamant calls for the Anglophone Prime Minister, Dion Ngute, to resign – notably from the Secretary General, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh. Writing in Le Soir, Joe Dinga Pefok remarks that this is interesting because ‘the Prime Minister is not incriminated anywhere in the audit report.’ Of course, as he goes on to explain, ‘in a democratic society, the Head of Government would, in the face of a scandal like Covidgate, not even wait to be asked to resign.’ However, ‘the fact is that the current Prime Minister… like all his Anglophone predecessors, is not really the Head of the Cameroon Government.’ He underlines this with several examples of the Prime Minister’s humiliation at the hands of the Francophone Presidency, such as Ngute’s 2019 visit to the Anglophone regions after which his message of hope was undercut by Secretary General Ngoh Ngoh who, Pefok writes, is ‘more of a Vice President… Cameroon is in reality not a semi-presidential system, but rather a full presidential system.’ Pefok believes that such treatment is par for the course for Anglophone Prime Ministers. Ngute is powerless, and ‘the real Head of Government in Cameroon remains the President of the Republic, Paul Biya,’ which means Ngute ‘cannot be held responsible for the failure of the Government in the management of the FCFA 180 billion Covid-19 funds.’ It remains likely, however, that he will become Biya’s scapegoat – or, as Pefok puts it, ‘sacrificial lamb.’ On the other side of this, Jean-Michel Nintcheu, deputy of the SDF and head of the Anglophone opposition, has been calling for the dismissal of all Government members involved in the scandal, especially the Secretary General and the Minister of Public Health, Manaouda Malachie. He also calls for the dismissal of the Minister of Territorial Administration, for not providing the Chamber of Accounts with records of expenses. Nintcheu demands that ‘light be shed’ on everything.[8]

This June, a group of Cameroonian women leaders wrote to the UN Security Council urging them to put Cameroon on their official agenda. ‘Over 10,000 of our people have died in the Boko Haram conflict and the Anglophone crisis. Over 1, 000, 000 of our children have had their schooling disrupted by conflict.’[9] In a second letter, this time to executive director of the IMF Kristena Georgieva, they point out that a loan in 2017 coincided with violent conflict in Cameroon, which ‘leads us to believe that IMF loans which will be reimbursed by Cameroonian citizens are being embezzled and used to buy weapons which murder these very Cameroonians.’[10] Fighting to prevent history repeating itself, they urge Georgieva not to give Cameroon a second loan until it is ensured that it won’t be handled by anyone responsible for embezzling the first: ‘We ask that you do not increase our burden by emboldening government officials who have … steered our resource-rich country to this place of poverty.’[11] They have pitted themselves against these government officials, whose fraudulent use of funds is the common cause between avoidable suffering during the pandemic and the extreme violence of the Anglophone crisis and other conflicts. It’s a culture of political corruption which this latest scandal has only dimly illuminated but which must, as so many have been saying, fully be brought to light. The letter to Kristena Georgieva ends by asking her to help ‘demonstrate to the world that we are demanding women’s place in leadership because it is our right to do so, but also because as women, we have the power and the ability to govern with integrity and in the interest of the humans we are entrusted to care for,’ and to the UN by asking ‘that you consider the peace and security of our entire sub-region, it is hanging by a thread. We are that thread.’

Author: Isobel Macleod

If you are seeking advice on any of the issues discussed in any of our articles, or would like more information, please feel free to contact De Jure Chambers on 01223 643580 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to help.

Legal Disclaimer:

The Content on Our Site does not constitute advice on which you should rely. It is provided for general information purposes only. Professional or specialist advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to the Our Site Content.

We make no representation, warranty, or guarantee that Our Site will meet your requirements, that it will not infringe the rights of third parties, that it will be compatible with all software and hardware, or that it will be secure.

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[1] TV 5 Monde Afrique, news report.

[2] E-TV Hub, news report.

[3] Open Letter to the Executive Director of the IMF. “Open Letter to the Executive Director of the IMF.” 3rd June 2021.

[4] E-TV Hub, news report.

[5] E-TV Hub, news report.

[6] ADE, Follow The Money, BudgIT, Global Integrity, Scoll Foundation. “Media Alert.”

[7] Staff, Reuters. “Cameroon State Audit Questions Ministries’ Use of COVID-19 Funds, Says Report.” U.S., 21 May 2021, www.reuters.com/article/cameroon-corruption-idUSL3N2N83HQ.

[8] E-TV Hub, news report.

[9] Open Letter to Members of the UN Security Council. “Open Letter from Women Leaders to Members of the UN Security Council: An Appeal from the People of Cameroon.” 3rd June 2021.

[10] Open Letter to the Executive Director of the IMF. “Open Letter to the Executive Director of the IMF.” 3rd June 2021.

[11] Ibid.

Published in News
Wednesday, 14 July 2021 12:16

The Legal Risks of Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies are digital assets which are used as a medium of exchange. They make use of distributed ledger technology (DLT), such as blockchain, to secure and verify transactions. DLT involves unique identifying information from each transaction being held on a decentralised, anonymous database. This anonymous database can be viewed by everyone but cannot be tampered with, thus providing an accurate record of all transactions which have occurred. The use of DLT allows cryptocurrencies to operate without the backing of a trusted third-party institution, such as a central bank, as with traditional currencies. The most well-known cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.

Cryptocurrencies have gained considerable public and media prominence in recent years: 78% of UK adults have said that they have heard of cryptocurrencies.[1] This is partly driven by the fact that more and more transactions are occurring online, a trend which has only been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have registered record increases in value. At the end of 2019, Bitcoin’s price was around $7,000 – this had increased to around $60,000 by March 2021.[2] Cryptocurrencies have also been the focus of government and regulators in recent years. For example, the UK government set up the UK Cryptoassets Taskforce in 2018 which brought together HM Treasury, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Bank of England (BoE)


[1] Michael Karim and Gergana Tomova, “Research Note: Cryptoasset consumer research 2021” (Financial Conduct Authority, 17 Jun 2021) < https://www.fca.org.uk/publications/research/research-note-cryptoasset-consumer-research-2021 > accessed 5 Jul 2021

[2] ibid

to consider the impacts of cryptoassets and DLT. The FCA has also conducted numerous qualitative studies into UK consumers’ attitudes towards cryptocurrencies.

FCA research from January 2021 shows that approximately 4.4% of UK adults currently hold cryptocurrency. This has grown from 3.9% in 2020. 82% of all UK adults had heard of Bitcoin, the highest percentage for any cryptocurrency. UK Cryptocurrency users are overwhelmingly male (78%), over 35 (70%) and 47% were within the highest AB social grade. Although 96% of UK adults who were aware of cryptocurrencies were also aware that they would not have financial protection if they did purchase cryptocurrency, there are indications of potential consumer risks. For example, 5% of cryptocurrency users believed they had some protection and borrowed to purchase cryptocurrency. 38% of cryptocurrency users said their main reason for buying cryptocurrency was as a gamble that could make or lose money. Also, sizeable proportions of people hear about cryptocurrencies from social media and online news.[1] This is concerning considering the well-documented issues surrounding accuracy with these sources.

Investing in cryptocurrencies poses a number of legal risks. Cryptocurrencies are increasingly being used to conduct cybercrime, money laundering, tax evasion and terrorist financing.[2] Criminals are attracted by the decentralised, anonymous and efficient nature of payments which enables them to quickly move stolen funds across the globe and into different jurisdictions.[3] In 2017, for example, the UK’s NHS was subject to the WannaCry ransomware cyberattack which demanded payments in Bitcoin.[4] The coronavirus pandemic and associated financial difficulties for many people combined with the huge increase in value of cryptocurrencies has led to criminals increasingly targeting vulnerable consumers using cold calls and ‘get rich quick’ schemes.[5] Cryptocurrency adverts on social media or online may also be misleading, often hiding complex products and charges. Action Fraud reported a 57% rise in cryptocurrency-related scams in the 12 months to December 2020 in the UK.[6]

The use of DLTs and cryptographic platforms also poses risks. Criminals may be able to steal a person’s private cryptographic key used to gain access to assets. Security loopholes within cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets may be exploited by hackers. For example, $460 Million was stolen from Mt Gox, one of the earliest and largest Bitcoin exchanges in the world.[7] Peer-to-peer exchange facilities and the privacy features of some coins also make cryptocurrencies attractive to criminals.[8]

Since cryptocurrencies are not backed by trusted institutions such as banks, they are completely reliant upon how investors and other consumers value them, leading to huge volatility. Still a relatively novel platform of exchange, cryptocurrencies are largely outside the regulatory ambit across the world. Where regulations exist, they evolve separately in different countries; however, cryptocurrencies are very much borderless assets. There being no standard practice means that consumers have much less protection from hacking and cybercrime, and it is therefore very difficult – though not impossible – to recover stolen funds. The onus is very much on individual companies to navigate varying cryptocurrency licensing regimes across jurisdictions.[9]

Businesses are increasingly vulnerable to ‘cryptojacking’ or malicious cryptocurrency mining. This involves an organisation’s computer processing power being used without their permission or knowledge to illegally mine cryptocurrencies. In May 2021 in Sandwell, UK, for example, British police discovered an illegal connection to the electricity supply at an industrial estate. Expecting a cannabis farm, they instead found a network of 100 computers mining Bitcoin, syphoning off huge amounts of electricity.[10]

With regards to regulation, prior to leaving the EU, the UK government implemented the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive in UK law via the The Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (MLR 2019). MLR 2019 expands the scope of money laundering legislation to now cover cryptoasset exchange providers and custodian wallet providers from 10th January 2020. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will supervise the regulations and must maintain a register of such providers. In October 2020, the FCA further announced that it was banning the sale of crypto-derivatives and exchange traded notes (ETNs) that reference cryptoassets to retail consumers. The FCA believed that these were very risky and volatile investments which were ill-suited for the retail market. Despite these measures, the UK regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin remains light-touch with firms only being required to comply with the minimum anti-money laundering regulations. Consumers, for example, are not afforded the protection of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme or the Financial Ombudsman Service as they are for other investments.[11] However, the government is consulting on expanding the financial promotions regime to cover unregulated cryptocurrencies, recognising the role played by advertising in financial decisions.[12]

Stablecoins are a type of cryptocurrency which are pegged to a stable asset such as a fiat currency, for example the US dollar or Pound Sterling. This should make them less volatile, in theory. Diem, formerly known as Libra, is a cryptocurrency backed by Facebook which has announced that it plans to offer cryptocurrencies linked to the pound, dollar and euro and a basket of currencies.[13] The UK government therefore considers stablecoins as harbouring potential for use by retail consumers and investors, unlike traditional unpegged cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. A consultation is currently taking place into whether the FCA’s regulatory perimeter should be expanded to cover stablecoins, with the development of an authorisation regime.[14]

Author: Rohit Bansal

If you are seeking advice on any of the issues discussed in this article, please feel free to contact De Jure Chambers on 01223 643580 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to help.

Legal Disclaimer:

The Content on Our Site does not constitute advice on which you should rely. It is provided for general information purposes only. Professional or specialist advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to Our Site Content.

We make no representation, warranty, or guarantee that Our Site will meet your requirements, that it will not infringe the rights of third parties, that it will be compatible with all software and hardware, or that it will be secure.

We make reasonable efforts to ensure that the Content on Our Site is complete, accurate, and up-to-date. We do not, however, make any representations, warranties, or guarantees (whether express or implied) that the Content is complete, accurate, or up-to-date.

 


[1] ibid (all data in paragraph)

[2] HM Treasury, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England, ‘Cryptoassets Taskforce: Final Report’ (HM Treasury, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England, 2018) < https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/752070/cryptoassets_taskforce_final_report_final_web.pdf > accessed 9 Jul 2021

[3] ibid

[4] BBC News, ‘WannaCry ransomware bitcoins move from online wallets’ (BBC News, 3 Aug 2017) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-40811972 > accessed 9 Jul 2021

[5] Jane Croft, ‘UK’s Crown Prosecution Service braces for rise in cryptocurrency scams’ (Financial Times, 4 Apr 2021) < https://www.ft.com/content/ee7f5417-37e9-47bf-9aba-d52c1d8aa785 > accessed 9 Jul 2021

[6] ibid

[7] LOW, Kelvin F. K. and TEO, Ernie. Legal risks of owning cryptocurrencies. (2017). Handbook of Digital

Finance and Financial Inclusion. Vol 1: Cryptocurrency, FinTech, InsurTech, and Regulation, 225-248.

Research Collection School Of Law.

Available at: https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/sol_research/2485

[8] HM Treasury, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England (n 4)

[9] Nathan Reiff, ‘What are the Legal Risks to Cryptocurrency Investors?’ (Investopedia, 25 Jun 19) < https://www.investopedia.com/tech/what-are-legal-risks-cryptocurrency-investors/ > accessed 9 Jul 2021

[10] BBC News, ‘Sandwell Bitcoin mine found stealing electricity’ (BBC News, 28 May 2021) < https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-57280115 > accessed 9 Jul 2021

[11] HM Treasury, Financial Conduct Authority, Bank of England (n 4)

[12] Jill Lorimer, ‘The new cryptoasset promotions consultation: widening the perimeter of FCA regulation’ (Kingsley Napley, 31 Jul 2020) < https://www.kingsleynapley.co.uk/insights/blogs/crypto-assets-blog/the-new-cryptoasset-promotions-consultation-widening-the-perimeter-of-fca-regulation > accessed 12 Jul 2021

[13] Richard Partington, ‘Digital currencies pose threat to economy, warns Bank of England’ (The Guardian, 7 Jun 21) < https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/07/digital-currencies-pose-threat-to-economy-warns-bank-of-england > accessed 7 Jul 2021

[14] HM Treasury, ‘UK regulatory approach to cryptoassets and stablecoins: Consultation and call for evidence’ (HM Treasury, Jan 2021) < https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/950206/HM_Treasury_Cryptoasset_and_Stablecoin_consultation.pdf > accessed 9 Jul 2021

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It is irrefutable that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the legal, economic, and social order of the world. While data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) does show that the UK legal sector has remained fairly stable, there is more to the story. In today’s rapidly changing world, the legal sector is constantly having to find ways to overcome new challenges. For this reason, it is important to understand how legal services in England and Wales have been affected by the ongoing health crisis. 

 Disruptions to the Profession

 The question of whether COVID-19 has impacted the legal profession has been the topic of much discussion. Recent sources have suggested that the legal sector in the UK has been somewhat stable throughout the global pandemic. While many areas of the law have greatly suffered, there has not actually been a significant amount of change: as noted in an article by Armstrong Watson, the SRA found that ‘the number of regulated firms fell by 1.9% between December 2019 and December 2020.’ 

 Family Law

One area of the law which has been significantly hindered by the outbreak of Covid-19 is Family Law. Slower court responses have escalated tensions within families.  

  1. It has been taking longer to obtain court hearings, and the impact on house prices, pensions, and the stock market has made financial settlement more difficult. This has meant family work is being completed at a much slower rate. Armstrong Watson note that they ‘did not see the usual January bounce in family instructions this year, most probably because the effect of families being together is now much more widespread through the year rather than in holiday pockets,’ but that ‘there is the potential for family work to surge in the future, as the strain of spending weeks together, along with financial pressures, become too much.’   
  2. Rights of Women wrote that some litigants have been struggling to participate in remote hearings in the Family Court during the pandemic, citing the following problems: not having good enough signal or internet access; being at home with children and not having a private space to participate in the hearing; not feeling confident with technology and struggling to switch between the hearing and virtual documents. This suggests that parties have been finding it hard to state their case adequately through a webcam. The outcomes of these hearings have huge implications on the participants’ lives and it is therefore imperative that they are able to express themselves just as well as they could in person. 

 

Commercial and Corporate

 Commercial and Corporate Law has been the second-worst hit, with many firms reporting a significant drop in obtaining new enquiries on matters. The main issues were that current transactions had not been completed and a lack of new instructions had jeopardised most work, creating a lot of uncertainty; it was not until Summer 2020 that transactional demand was at its peak. However, looking forward, there is still uncertainty due to the global recession and potential tax charges.  

 

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Difficulties in Working from Home (WFH) 

  1. Both employers and employees will face issues with WFH. A notorious issue that will be seen across the board is the challenge of facing technical difficulties. Although this is a rather big issue as an internet connection is not always stable, employers are having success in paying expenses to employees with regards to their broadband. Expenses such as travel are becoming obsolete, and the expense of broadband can be significantly less than what travel costs incur in a month. It also has the benefit of allowing employees to work at their optimum performance, as they are not tired out by their commute.

  2. Coodes Solicitors employment specialist Philip Sayers writes that ‘businesses may not have had the time to carry out security checks and ensure the correct systems are in place to protect sensitive data.’ However, complying with GDPR is a very important check that must be ensured. Furthermore, to avoid a cyber-attack and reduce the risk of a data breach, employers should get advice from experts to ensure their system is secure. 

 
A Double-Edged Sword: the impact on legal services 

A number of areas in the legal sector, such as employment, housing, and welfare, have also seen a huge rise in cases. As the Government makes immense policy changes at a moment’s notice, it becomes unclear how these policy changes will affect everyday life. 

Employment law

 Employment Law, in particular, has seen a large rise in cases. The word “furlough” will surely ring a bell for many of those told to stay at home to protect the NHS. 
 

  1. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or CJRS, more commonly known as “furlough”, rolled out in March 2020 as a direct response to the forced closure of businesses throughout the country. As Gov.UK states, it worked by ‘providing grants to employers of up to a maximum 80% of salary to a maximum value of £2,500 per employee (until the end of August).’ Roughly 9.6 million employees were furloughed and almost 8,000 reports of furlough fraud have been reported. 

  2. Since the beginning of the scheme, the rate of pay has changed every couple of months, with employees’ pay being split between the government (who cover the large majority of costs) and the employers. On the 1st of July 2020 we were entered into the “flexible furlough” scheme which differentiates itself from the prior scheme by the fact that furloughed staff are allowed to work part-time, with employers claiming a grant for their non-working hours.

 
With the end of the CJRS scheme in sight, on the 30th September 2021, we can expect an increase in demand for Employment Law services. 

 
Property and Conveyancing

 This area of law has reported a large growth in its workload, due to the fact that since the housing market re-opened there has been a temporary change in stamp duty. The reduced rates of stamp duty has meant that there is an increase in properties being bought. The rise in demand has meant that the recruitment market for conveyancers has significantly increased.

Although this is a fantastic opportunity for conveyancers, it does not come without any issues. Conveyancers are facing heavy pressure and according to the law society they are working late into the evening and at weekends to ensure transactions are progressing. A conveyancing update for the Law Society advises that ‘it’s key at this stage to take steps to manage your clients’ expectations in the lead up to 30 June.’ As it is key for client expectations to be managed and conveyancers are aware of this, they must also manage the many factors which could delay a transaction which are outside their control. The conveyancing update goes on to outline these factors, which include clients having issues obtaining mortgages and delays with lenders, therefore risking missing completion before the end of the decreased stamp duty period.

 
Litigation and Personal Injury

 
These areas of law have been mostly unaffected by the pandemic, apart from the general slowing-down which we have seen across the board. Litigation matters are taking a much longer response time, but this was due to the closure of courts. Personal Injury matters are also taking longer than usual, but this is mainly due to insurance companies slowing their response time down and adapting to working from home. Despite ongoing matters, there has been a general decrease in claims for injuries, and according to these reports, injuries themselves have decreased significantly. 
 

  1. Restrictions placed on movement have meant that there are simply fewer people roaming the streets, which equates to fewer incidents. Fewer employees being physically present at workplaces reduces the scope of accidents for which employers are liable.

  2. Likewise, fewer people on the road has meant there have been even fewer RTA claims. According to Armstrong Watson’s article, ‘the Legal Services Board reports that the number of claims made through the Portal have been lower every month compared to the previous year since April 2020.’ 

  3. With the easing of lockdown over the last few weeks came an increase of 35% in motor incidents, as reported recently by Co-Op Insurance. The report states that ‘whilst overall the insurer is seeing less claims than it did compared to before lockdown, perhaps the reason for this sudden increase in motor collisions is the fact that many motorists are out of the habit of driving regularly due to lockdown.’ This is further evidenced by some serious incidents of speeding.

  4. To contrast the above points, a handful of companies have banned the use of remote medical examinations, due to concerns about fraud (this ban has since been lifted). It is very difficult for a medical professional to properly examine an injury over webcam, which in turn makes it difficult for them to give that injury full credibility. With the medical examiner less able to make a fair assessment of the damages incurred, the claimant’s word has to be relied upon. 

 

Authors: Saif Jabbar, Henna Khatun, Anisa Kebbati

Photos by: Scott Graham @homajob

Bibliography:

Linklaters LLP. “The Impact of the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak on Commercial Contracts in 14 Jurisdictions | Publications | Insights | Linklaters.” Linklaters LLP, www.linklaters.com/en/insights/publications/2020/march/novel-coronavirus-commercial-contracts/novel-coronavirus-impact-on-commercial-contracts. Accessed 28 June 2021.

“Covid-19 and Your Business.” The Impact of Covid-19 on the Legal Sector, 2021, ArmstrongWatson, www.armstrongwatson.co.uk/services/covid-19-and-your-business/impact-covid-19-legal-sector.

“Co-Op Media.” Crunch Time for Motorists as Claims Surge by a Third Following Relaxation of Lockdown Rules, 2021, https://www.co-operative.coop/media/news-releases/crunch-time-for-motorists-as-claims-surge-by-a-third-following-relaxation-of

“Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Statistics.” Overview, 2021, www.gov.uk/government/statistics/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-statistics-3-june-2021/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-statistics-3-june-2021.

BBC News. “Coronavirus: Lockdown Drivers Caught Travelling up to 140mph.” BBC News, © 2021 BBC, 20 June 2020, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-53055560?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cx250pek0xxt/road-safety&link_location=live-reporting-story.

“Data from SRA.” SRA Update, 2021, www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/sra-update/sra-update-issue-91-april-2021.

“The Law Society - Property.” Conveyancing Update: SDLT Deadlines, Leasehold Reform and PII, 2021, www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/property/conveyancing-update-sdlt-deadlines-leasehold-reform-and-pii .

“Law under Lockdown: The Impact of COVID-19 Measures on Access to Justice and Vulnerable People.” The Law Society, www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/topics/research/law-under-lockdown-the-impact-of-covid-19-measures-on-access-to-justice-and-vulnerable-people. Accessed 28 June 2021.

“Stamp Duty Land Tax: Temporary Reduced Rates.” GOV.UK, 8 June 2021, www.gov.uk/guidance/stamp-duty-land-tax-temporary-reduced-rates.

Sayers, Phillip. “Coodes Solicititors Blog.” What Are the Legal Issues around Working from Home?, 2020, https://coodes.co.uk/blog/legal-issues-around-working-from-home/

Au, Emily; Prytherch, Jack; Brown, Andy. “UK: COVID-19: What Should I Do If HMRC Suspect My Business of Furlough Fraud?” Bird & Bird, © 2021 Bird & Bird, 9 Sept. 2020, www.twobirds.com/en/news/articles/2020/uk/covid-19-what-should-i-do-if-hmrc-suspect-my-business-of-furlough-fraud.

Poultney, Joel. “Covid-19 and Legal Practice Areas.” To Be Commercially Aware in 2021, You Have to Know How Coronavirus Has Affected the Work Done by Lawyers, 2021, www.chambersstudent.co.uk/where-to-start/commercial-awareness-info/covid-19-and-legal-practice-areas.

“Remote Hearings.” Coronavirus – Remote Hearings in the Family Court, 2021, https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-information/family-law/coronavirus-remote-hearings-in-the-family-court/.

“MedCo Approves Remote Examinations.” Clyde&Co, © Clyde & Co LLP, www.clydeco.com/en/insights/2020/03/medco-approves-remote-examinations-ban-lifted-vide. Accessed 28 June 2021.

If you are seeking advice on any of the issues discussed in this article, please feel free to contact De Jure Chambers on 01223 643580 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will be happy to help.

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