Should a firstborn automatically inherit? 
It has been said that nothing divides a family like a will dispute – and that certainly seems to be the case in a bitter High Court battle involving a £1.5 million Jacobean ‘seat’ and the assumed right of a firstborn son to inherit an entire estate.

Rupert St John Webster, 39, believes that under the rules of primogeniture – the ‘right’ of a firstborn child (usually the son) to inherit over their siblings – he should rightfully own 17th century manor house The Priory, in Taunton, Somerset.

He told the High Court that the property, which belonged to his grandparents, Anthony and Valerie St John Webster, had been promised to his father, Valentine, in the 1970s. His father, in turn, promised the estate to him.

Valentine died in 2006 – 11 months before his own mother, who still owned the property. Mr St John Webster maintains that The Priory should now be passed to him as the next surviving male heir.

However, this is not a view shared by other family members, including two aunts and an uncle, who say that Anthony and Valerie wanted to break with family tradition by leaving each of their children an equal share of the estate.

The dispute itself does not relate to Valentine’s will, of which Mr St John Webster’s mother, Jennifer, was the sole beneficiary, but to a trust set up by Anthony and Valerie in 1992, setting out their wishes.

Mr St John Webster is contesting both the trust, which he says contradicts assurances made to his father more than 30 years ago, as well as the final version of his grandmother’s will, which leaves him just a fraction of The Priory. He claims that she was unduly influenced and may not have been aware of what she was agreeing to when she made this version of her will just over a year before her death.

A barrister acting for one of Mr St John Webster’s aunts told the High Court that there was evidence that Mr St John Webster himself had tried to put undue influence on his grandmother to change her will.

The case continues, but it is clear that, whatever the outcome, someone is going to end up feeling aggrieved. More importantly, a family may find itself irreparably damaged as a result.

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Landmark victory in equal pay case 
Cooks, cleaners and care staff have declared victory over their former employer in a landmark Court of Appeal ruling over equal pay.

The decision will have significant implications for employees across the country who had believed that their equal pay claims were blocked by the six-month Employment Tribunal time limit after three appeal judges ruled that such claims could be heard in the High Court, which has a six-year time limit.

The claim was brought by 174 female ex-employees of Birmingham City Council. The women found favour in the High Court. However, the council appealed against the original decision, arguing that the High Court did not have jurisdiction to determine such matters.

Such claims could only be heard by the Employment Tribunal, the local authority said.

However, the appeal was dismissed by appeal judges Lord Justice Mummery, Lord Justice Davis and Dame Janet Smith, who unanimously decided that Birmingham City Council had failed to demonstrate that the High Court judge’s interpretation of the 1970 Equal Pay Act was wrong.

Lord Justice Mummery commented that it was “extraordinary” that this was the first time the issue had been raised in the 40 years since the Act came into force.

As Birmingham City Council’s own lawyers have acknowledged, the ruling could pave the way for significant numbers of employees to bring claims against former employers without being restricted to the six-month tribunal time limit.

It will be interesting to see how many more cases emerge as a result.

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Red tape vs common sense 
As a glance at a tabloid newspaper will often confirm, health and safety legislation now tends to be viewed as the killjoy that stops people enjoying everyday activities and creates unnecessary bureaucracy for many business owners.

We have all read articles about school trips being cancelled due to health and safety fears, while many people wanting to hold their own street parties to celebrate the royal wedding in April had their plans thwarted for similar reasons.

Critics say that legislation is often applied overzealously, resulting in people being prevented from participating in activities they have previously enjoyed without suffering so much as a scratch.

However, more than half of the UK’s 200-odd health and safety regulations could soon be scrapped after the Government launched a consultation into whether current legislation should be changed.

The Government has indicated that it would like to see the first regulations removed from the statute book within the next few months, although it is anticipated that any reduction exercise would take three years overall.

The consultation follows the publication of a review by Professor Ragnar E Lofstedt, director of the Centre for Risk Management at King’s College, London.

He concluded that the problem with health and safety regulations lies more in the way they were interpreted and applied, rather than in the actual rules themselves.

The report also recommends that employers should not be held responsible for damages where every possible step has been taken to manage risks, while self-employed people whose work poses no risks to others should be exempt from the rules altogether.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said that the Government accepted Prof Lofstedt’s recommendations and wanted to introduce ‘common sense’ reforms placing greater emphasis on people taking responsibility for their own actions.

A panel is also being created whereby businesses can challenge health and safety rulings made against them if they disagree with them.

Of course, the real question is, will reducing the number of regulations ensure the continuing safety of people in the workplace? Only time will tell.

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Pick up a Penguin at the library?  
The growth in popularity of e-readers led Bloomsbury’s chief executive, Nigel Newton to describe 2011 as being “the year of the e-book”. Indeed, sales of e-books rose by 600 percent in the first half of this year and they now account for a tenth of all book sales.

This has been reflected by an increase in the lending of e-books by libraries across Britain. For example, 87 of the 151 public library authorities in England are either already lending e-books or plan to do so by the end of the year – up from just 30 in March 2010.

On the surface, this seems like an ideal scenario. There’s no need for libraries to physically store large quantities of books, and the individual doesn’t have to worry about paying fees for forgetting to return the book, as it is just deleted from their reader at the end of the loan period.

However, there is a major blot on the landscape in the form of e-book piracy. As a result of concerns about copyright infringement, the publishing giant Penguin has decided not to make its new e-books available to libraries across the US and UK. Digital versions of older books will still be available, as long as the files are held behind firewalls.

Of course, protecting the ownership of ideas and creations is vital in the business world – a fact acknowledged by Penguin: “Our overriding aim is to strike the right balance between access to our content and the protection of our authors’ copyright.”

Unfortunately, as the popularity of e-books has soared, so piracy has become an increasing problem. E-books are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM), which controls which devices they can be read on and is designed to prevent the copying or sharing of e-books.

However, hackers can remove the DRM using software tools, convert the content to formats used by different types of reader and then distribute the e-book online for others to download. Furthermore, it is perfectly easy for a hacker to obtain a library card, and then break the coding so that the e-book isn’t deleted when the loan period finishes.

Therefore, with DRM not proving much of a barrier to piracy, it is unclear what the future will hold in terms of copyright protection and how publishers will continue to respond to these challenges as e-books become increasingly popular.

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A week to remember road safety 
With troubles in the euro zone, unrest in Egypt and testimony from witnesses at the Leveson Inquiry dominating the headlines over the last few days, the fact that this is Road Safety Week has probably slipped under the radar for many of us.

Sadly, far too many families can never forget just how dangerous our roads can be. Last year, 1,850 people were killed in road accidents in Britain. Another 22,000 or so were seriously injured.

As the theme of this year’s Road Safety Week – Too Young to Die – highlights, many young lives are ended far too soon, or changed forever by serious injuries, as a result of road accidents. Shockingly, last year crashes accounted for 21 per cent of all deaths in people aged from 15-24 and 38 per cent of all non-medical deaths.

Where dangerous driving causes a serious accident involving a death or injuries leading to lifelong pain or disability, current sentencing policy has long been felt by many not to reflect the severity of what has occurred: the offence of dangerous driving carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

Now that is about to change. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced last month that a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving will be introduced, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The vast majority of us who take to the roads do so in a safe and responsible way. There would be few who would disagree that where dangerous drivers cause injuries that rip lives and families apart, the punishment should fit the crime.

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