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 have been in the media this week to promote the role and value of the profession in these difficult times
I spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live (from 07:48), BBC News, Sky News, BBC Radio Foyle, the Guardian and Yahoo! about whether AstraZeneca breached its contract with the EU by not supplying them with the promised number of vaccines.
I explained how the terms of the contract led to problems when AstraZeneca was unable to produce the required quantities, and briefly discussed the EU’s strategies to resolve the issue, including aborted plans to override part of the Brexit deal and put border controls on Northern Ireland.
Further international coverage: France 24; Radio France Internationale; Brussels Times; Deccan Herald; International Business Times Australia; Manila Standard; L’Agefi (Switzerland); Fintech Zoom; The Jakarta Post; Guacha ZH; Infobae; NoticiasFinancieras; Teller Report; MSN LatinoAmerica; Il Foglio; Sondakika; Bharat Express News; Pehal News; Science et Avenir; NDTV India; Oman Observer; L’Echo; Deal News Online; e-velos.gr; Ta Nea Online; Psychology News; Urdu Point; International Business Times India and International Business Times USA; Correio Brazilinese; Le Journal de Quebec.
The Daily Mail, Solicitors Journal, Fintech Zoom, MSN News, Today’s Conveyancer, Housing Quality Network and Local Government Lawyer all noted the Law Society’s call for leaseholders to be protected from the costs of making their homes safe from potentially deadly cladding.
I said: “Many properties built over the last twenty years are potentially dangerous as a result of unclear building regulations, poor building practices, defective materials and inadequate enforcement of the rules.”
I wrote an article for the Times (£) on court safety in the pandemic. I explained our call on the government to move to video hearings by default in all crown and magistrates’ courts.
“Court staff, judges and lawyers have worked tirelessly to keep the wheels of justice turning. The government must put their safety first and heed calls to move to video by default to keep all involved as safe as possible,” I said.
In a piece on the backlogs in the courts, BBC London cited our recent call for a pause in court hearings.
Reports the government has abandoned plans to roll-out Covid operating hours across Crown courts are covered by the Gazette.
Our head of justice Richard Miller said: “We would welcome a decision not to proceed with any further roll-out of Covid operating hours in the Crown courts, if this were confirmed.
“We remain to be convinced that the Covid operating hours pilots have delivered any additional capacity. We also told the Ministry of Justice that Covid operating hours would have likely increased foot traffic whilst a new Covid variant is in circulation and therefore we believe it is safer not to proceed with any further roll-out.”
The Gazette covered the announcement of the panel for the criminal legal aid review. I said: “Legal aid practitioners must be paid properly, and their businesses must be economically viable, otherwise the system will collapse.” Also in New Law Journal.
The Gazette reported the independent panel examining judicial review has sent in its findings to the government. The article noted ministries may now come under increasing pressure to publish their submissions to the panel as others, including the Law Society, have done. The lord chancellor has said any proposals on judicial review would be announced in the spring. Read our submission.
The Times (£) and Gazette covered a new identity card scheme enabling solicitors to bypass security checks in more than 300 courts and tribunals thanks to a partnership between the Law Society, LCCSA and CLSA. I said: “The work solicitors do underpins justice. We’re therefore very pleased that we’ve been able to come to an arrangement with partner organisations so our members can obtain ID which helps them fast-track into court premises in a way that helps court security for everyone using the courts or working there.”
Global Legal Post cited a blog written by Mickaël Laurans, our head of international, who gave an initial assessment of the impact of the Brexit deal on trade in legal services, noting that it provided clarity and transparency on the restrictions placed on UK lawyers – essentially putting them on a par with non-EU, third-country lawyers.
The Gazette and Wales 247 picked up on the launch of our Future of Justice in Wales manifesto, which laid out some key asks for next Welsh government to advance access to justice, promote South Wales as a vibrant legal centre and maintain and develop a shared regulatory system.
Jonathan Davies, head of the Law Society’s Wales office, said: “Cross-border collaboration is a crucial component of English and Welsh law’s success. As the body of Wales-specific law grows, it is important to consider the distinct needs of the Welsh public and legal profession and to ensure a continued openness across England and Wales – allowing solicitors to gain experience and grow their careers in both nations.”
Members of our conveyancing and land law committee took to the airwaves ahead of a parliamentary debate on whether the stamp duty holiday deadline of 31 March should be extended. Sarah Dwight spoke to BBC Radio Cornwall (from 2:11:28) and Peter Rodd was a guest on LBC (from 02:36:23).
Dr Kerry Beynon, a member of our technology and law committee, spoke with talkRadio (in the 17:30 – 18:00 section from 21:42) about what consumers should be aware of when consenting to apps’ terms and conditions in the wake of the Grindr case.
Jo O’Sullivan from our family law committee talks to BBC Radio Essex (from 13:13) about the benefits of using family mediation in divorce cases, following family mediation week in late January.
North East Connected reminded readers to remember to include digital assets when planning for their estates, after Law Society research found 93% of people have not done this.
“Writing a digital will and keeping a clear record of online passwords ensures that your loved ones are able to access your digital assets and are not faced with any additional stresses during probate,” I said.
The Gazette and Legal Futures reported that the Legal Services Board has published a new framework for how regulators and representative bodies are held accountable for expenditure. The new rules are an adaption and extension of the existing regime and follow a consultation with the profession last year.
Legal Futures covered the Bar Council’s view that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) is “setting itself up to fail” by proposing to give itself more work than it can cope with and asking for a budget hike of 19%. This follows our concerns that the LeO budget increase was “out of step” with the economy, especially given the ombudsman’s performance over the last year.
I said: "The organisation needs to focus on the reasons behind its performance levels so that these may be addressed as well as tackling its human resource issues before considering the recruitment of more staff.”
New Law Journal picks up on the Land Registry’s proposal to allow digital identity checks in conveyancing, which the Law Society has welcomed.
In our consultation response, we said that we are “broadly in favour of the proposals introduced by the safe harbour standard”, which would mean prior to completion conveyancers would provide an individual certificate to the Land Registry as assurance that they have followed the correct processes.
President writes article for Westminster and Holborn Law Society
This week I wrote an article in the Central London Lawyer, the official journal of the Westminster and Holborn Law Society, giving my reaction to the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement.
You can read the article here
Continued collaboration essential for the future of Welsh justice
On 3 February we launched our Future of Justice in Wales manifesto stating that continued collaboration between the Welsh and UK governments will be essential for the future success of Welsh justice.
Richard Atkinson has been confirmed as the Law Society’s representative on the Criminal Legal Aid Review Panel. The Government published the full list of panel members, which also included criminal solicitor Bill Waddington, barristers Jo Cecil and Neil Hawes QC, and academics Dr Natalie Byrom, Dr Vicky Kemp and Professor Dame Hazel Genn DBE, QC (Hon), FBA, LLD. I was able to speak with the chair of the inquiry, Sir Christopher Bellamy QC, in an introductory discussion when I was able to outline our concerns.
Changes to the capital rules in the legal aid means test resulting from our recent strategic litigation took effect on 28 January. From now on, the whole of a mortgage against a property will be taken into account rather than just the first £100,000.
The Legal Aid Agency has extended its contingency arrangements, to enable firms to operate during the pandemic without facing contract breach sanctions, until March 2021.
Legal Services Board Strategy for legal services regulation and Business Plan
2021-22 – Law Society response
The Law Society responded to the LSB’s strategy and business plan consultation. We broadly welcome the strategy but given that the legal sector and the profession are facing unprecedented pressures, we said the LSB should concentrate on how its work can support the sector at this challenging time. We encouraged the LSB to prioritise and focus the strategy on promoting access to justice, ensuring regulatory certainty and stability as well as maintenance of public protections.
We are particularly keen to work closely with the LSB and others to progress diversity and inclusion in the profession and to enhance access to justice through the use of technology and innovation in the legal sector. We have significant ongoing work programmes in these areas and the insight of our members will be essential to making sustainable changes across the sector.
Diversity and Inclusion
Experiences of LGBT+ lawyers and their allies
To mark LGBT History Month (1 – 28 February) we have launched a survey to capture the experiences of the LGBT+ legal community and their allies.
Our aim is to gain a better understanding of people’s daily lives, challenges and opportunities within the profession and improve engagement and support for LGBT+ people.
Please take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey before Sunday 28 Feb.
Take the survey
LGBT History Month: Inspiration through the ages
To mark LGBT History Month, members of our LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee have profiled four inspirational LGBT+ people from history who worked within, or directly impacted, the legal profession.
Read the article
It is time to talk: the wellbeing gap for Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors
To mark both Time to Talk Day (4 February) and Race Equality Week (1-7 February) we invited Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare, and Umar Kankiya, solicitor specialising in mental health and a LawCare champion, to discuss the wellbeing gap between black, Asian and minority ethnic and white solicitors.
Listen to the podcast
Find out more about Race Equality Week
A disability inclusive future
To mark the launch of our easy wins resources for disability inclusion for both large and small organisations, Aimey Sherwood, member of our Diversity and Inclusion team, explores how the recommendations can positively impact workplaces.
Read the article
Update from our Brussels Office
On Tuesday 2 February, Helena Raulus, head of office spoke in a FIDE (Finland) webinar on Brexit.
On Wednesday 3 February, The Brussels Office jointly with the British Chamber of Commerce hosted a webinar on “EU-UK cross border trade, the new landscape for VAT”. The discussion was led by David Pruden and Edward Brett, who are part of the VAT principles team at HMRC, and Martin Shah, partner in corporate tax at Simmons & Simmons. The event was moderated by Daniel Dalton, chief executive of Britcham EU & Belgium.
I hosted a “Carey Street” round table with practitioners on legal services after Brexit both in the EU and countries round the world. The discussion was wide ranging and feeds into our work for the profession post Brexit.
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents unless otherwise specified.
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