Your weekly Law Society update
As the professional body for solicitors, every week the Law Society is working hard to influence the legal and regulatory environment on behalf of our profession and to promote solicitors at home and abroad. We support practice excellence, are an informed source of legal sector news and support members at every stage of their career.
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We were in the media last week to promote the role and value of the profession in these difficult times
Our campaign to soften the end of the stamp duty (SDLT) holiday looming on 31 March received a boost this week with coverage from the Express, London Mail and Estate Agent Today.
I said: “Urgent action needs to be taken to soften this cliff edge and protect home buyers and sellers from being out of the scheme, out of luck and out of pocket.”
Subsequently the Gazette revealed the chancellor of the exchequer could announce in next week’s budget the extension of the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) holiday until the end of June.
New Law Journal picked up the story. A Law Society spokesperson said: “It is promising to see speculation that the cliff-edge end to the stamp duty land tax holiday could be addressed. The combination of the cliff edge and a bottleneck in the property market could see thousands of transactions collapse at the last minute, leaving consumers stranded and out of pocket.”
Join or share our campaign to prevent the SDLT cliff edge
The Gazette, Mortgage Finance Gazette, Today’s Conveyancer, Estate Agent Networking, LexisLibrary Real Property Law (£), New Law Journal, Solicitors Journal and Money Age reported the Law Society and conveyancing bodies have launched a new taskforce that will agree and lead changes to the homebuying and selling process.
I said: “The combination of the stamp duty land tax holiday and working from home has put conveyancing and those who practise it under enormous strain.
“We do know that the pandemic and the need for social distancing has accelerated the appetite for using digital solutions in parts of the transaction process, particularly for ID and execution and electronic and/or digital signing.”
Max Winthrop, from our employment law committee, spoke to Channel 4 News and LBC (from 00:03:18) about the Supreme Court judgment on the employment status of Uber drivers and the wider implications of the judgment for employment law and the gig economy.
Melinda Giles, a member of our wills and equity committee, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box (from 02:00) about lasting powers of attorney and managing someone else’s finances should they lose capacity.
The Northamptonshire Telegraph and Northampton Chronicle both reported that although 60 new Nightingale courts are due to open, none have been scheduled to open in Northampton. I said: “Justice is being delayed for victims, witnesses and defendants, who have proceedings hanging over them for months, if not years, with some trials now being listed for 2022.”
Wedding Ideas provided advice and updates for people planning a wedding during the pandemic.
Chair of the Law Society’s digital assets working group Gary Rycroft said: “Couples’ legal rights have changed in both obvious ways – such as the number of guests allowed reducing from 30 to 15 – as well as in more subtle ways.
“The change in scale of weddings may change the nature of the event originally booked to the extent it is no longer viable for the couples or venues. What I mean here is that the wedding may have been forced to be so small that there are grounds to cancel or postpone it.”
Also in MSN UK.
The Gazette, Times (£) and Legal Futures reported that our recommended minimum salary for trainee solicitors has risen by 1.1% to £20,217 outside London and £22,794 in the capital.
I said: “Our vision is that the profession should be accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic background. I encourage all law firms to adopt this recommendation and pay their trainees a fair minimum salary for their hard work so that people from all walks of life can see a path into a career in the law."
Legal Cheek covered research showing a fifth of trainees based in London are being paid below the Law Society’s minimum recommended salary, up from 16% last year.
The Law Society produced a report – On the Human Rights Frontline – alongside Amnesty International, Peace Brigades International and the York Centre for Applied Human Rights, among others, reports Nouse.
The report is based on interviews with 82 activists and calls for the UK government to increase its efforts to protect those who defend human rights. I said: “Lawyers around the globe face harassment, prosecution, imprisonment and violence for representing their clients and upholding the rule of law.”
The European Commission has published its draft adequacy for personal data transfers to the UK under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Law Enforcement Directive, reports New Law Journal.
I said: “Without formal adequacy recognition, UK organisations will need to have in place alternative safeguards to ensure they may continue to receive personal data from the EU and EEA, such as standard contractual clauses or another transfer mechanism.
“Until the adequacy decisions are adopted, we continue to advise the profession to continue to prepare in the event that adequacy is not approved by the EU."
A report by Fair Trials, Transform Justice and the National Appropriate Adult Network about remote legal advice in police custody was covered by the Guardian. The Law Society agreed that face-face legal advice for all suspects at stations was preferable, but that safety has to be the priority during the pandemic.
I said: “What should happen and what safely can happen during the pandemic are not going to be the same, and in this extraordinary situation there will of course be isolated examples of solicitors – and police officers, and appropriate adults – making decisions that could be questioned. But sometimes there is no right answer, only a choice as to which wrong answer is the least wrong.”
The Gazette revealed that several police stations have agreed to resume video remand hearings for all defendants from their custody suites.
“We are pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have agreed funding to support the reintroduction of video remand hearings for all defendants in several locations and hope that this is the first step towards restoring their use more widely,” I said.
Also in Solicitors Journal.
Today’s Wills and Probate mentioned our research into digital assets in wills in a discussion piece on the subject.
Global Britain ministerial roundtable
On Wednesday 17 February I chaired the roundtable hosted by the Law Society for senior representatives from some of the largest UK firms with significant international interests. Attendees discussed opportunities and concerns surrounding global trade in legal services with two government ministers: trade policy minister Greg Hands MP and justice minister Lord Wolfson QC.
Polish National Bar event
I spoke to the Polish National Bar, covering the Law Society’s reaction to the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, and our view that it will not affect the openness of the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
On Tuesday I hosted a Carey Street roundtable on the topic of future skills for the profession. Dr Kion Ahadi, our director of Futures and Insight, presented some findings from a recent Law Society skills survey of the profession. The discussion focused on what future skills are needed by the profession, and the influence of factors such as technology on new ways of working, and post Brexit immigration rules on talent requisition and retention.
Participants included representatives from the Government Lawyers Department, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sheffield University, Junior Lawyers Division, DLA Piper, Herbert Smith Freehills and Addleshaw Goddard.
Court safety and testing
We continue to meet with HMCTS on a weekly basis to keep court safety matters under review. They are encouraging all court and tribunal users to take part in any Community Testing Programme that is available locally. In areas where new virus variants have been found the government strongly advises users to take a COVID test, whether you are showing symptoms or not.
You can find out more information in the ‘Testing advice for key workers’ section of our guidance and best practice for member safety in court and tribunal buildings: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/coronavirus/coronavirus-covid-19-best-practice-for-member-safety-in-court-and-tribunal-buildings
Positive news as police reinstate use of video remand hearings
In October 2020, it was revealed that police forces could no longer afford to support HMCTS during the pandemic by running video remand hearings (VRH) from their custody suites and withdrew from full participation in December 2020.
Since October, we have been lobbying hard for a solution to be found that would reinstate Cloud Video Platform (CVP) remand hearings, with a key focus being on the safety of all court users. HMCTS has confirmed that it’s been able to secure agreement with the majority of forces for police to continue operating limited access to VRH for any defendants in custody or with suspected cases of COVID-19.
You can read more on the concerns we raised and what has been done to address these here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/court-reform/news/positive-news-as-police-reinstate-use-of-video-remand-hearings
Justice Week 2021
This week is Justice Week (1-5 March). Together with the Bar Council and CILEx, we are organising a series of online events and activities to improve access to justice.
Our theme for 2021 is Rights and Justice: the cost of Covid-19. We want to reach as wide a public audience as possible, so we encourage you and your family and friends to take part in Justice Week 2021.
The headline event of this year’s Justice Week will be our Justice Week Question Time on Thursday 4 March at 5pm.
This live and energetic online panel session with experts on all things rights and justice will focus on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our democracy. We will have a great panel of speakers, including Lord Sumption and Tom Franklin from Young Citizens. The BBC’s Sangita Myska will moderate the debate.
Our panelists will be answering questions directly sourced from anyone who would like to ask one. All you need to do is to post your question on Twitter with #JusticeWeekQT hashtag.
Join the event on Thursday and invite your family and friends to sign up and send their questions.
Find out more about Justice Week 2021 and see the full list of activities here.
Justice Week photo exhibition
During Justice Week, we are running an online photography exhibition focusing on the impact of the pandemic on young people, helping to give them a voice about how their freedoms have been limited and policed, at times in controversial ways. The deadline for submitting photos is Friday 5 March.
Find out more on how to take part
Meeting with the new Chief Ombudsman
Following the Law Society’s Response in January to the OLC’s Business Plan and Budget Consultation 2021/22, we met with the newly appointed Chief Ombudsman, Paul McFadden. We explained the impact of the pandemic on the profession, financially, and in other ways such as having to adapt to new ways of working (for example, new processes for the execution of documents). We also discussed working remotely, which has been particularly challenging for smaller firms and those undertaking publicly funded work. He acknowledged our concerns about LeO’s performance, the significant budget ask, which we opposed, and other issues raised in our response on behalf of members. He recognised that LeO needed to address its performance issues swiftly in order to regain the confidence of the profession in LeO, and indicated that he is willing to work with stakeholders and take onboard feedback.
We understand that the OLC has amended its Business Plan and submitted it to the LSB for consideration. The LSB will make a decision on the Business Plan and Budget in March.
You may also like to view our updated practice note on Handling Complaints
Update from our Brussels office
On Monday 22 February, Helena Raulus, head of office, was invited to speak in a roundtable organised by Simmons and Simmons on recognition and enforcement of judgments with Justice Sara Cockerill. The participants included inhouse lawyers from major City banks such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, JP Morgan and Credit Suisse.
Our work internationally
The Law Society and Lawyers for Lawyers delivered a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council during the interactive dialogue with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights on Belarus. In the statement, we highlighted the arrest and detention of lawyers in Belarus and lack of access to a lawyer of one’s own choosing in the aftermath of the elections there.
Ben Stevenson and Stephen Denyer hosted a member strategy roundtable on the USA with HMTC Anthony Phillipson. Over 33 law firms and discussed a range of topics including market access, trade promotion and cross border regulatory issues.
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents unless otherwise specified.
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