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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Find a Solicitor Service
Whilst the Law Society is not able to give legal advice, if you have a client who needs advice in a practice area other than your own, our Find a Solicitor service is available to help them find a legal professional who can help. They can use the service by visiting solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk or by calling 020 7320 5650.
We have been in the media this week to promote the role and value of the profession in these difficult times
This week, as part of my inauguration interviews, I was featured in the Guardian talking about the issues facing solicitors, including rhetoric from the government denigrating “lefty human rights lawyers”.
“These are lawyers doing their job, whether it’s in immigration or criminal defence work. They are upholding the law as it stands. Yet they are being criticised,” said David Greene.
“We are in a febrile climate. We have huge uncertainties brought about by Covid-19. There is the added uncertainty over Brexit. We have to go back to basics: rule of law, access to justice and independence of the judiciary.”
I also spoke to Sky Business about how the legal services sector is preparing for Brexit and why the government must avoid rhetoric which blames immigration lawyers for simply doing their jobs.
And to the Times (£) about the issues facing solicitors, including rhetoric from the government denigrating “lefty human rights lawyers”.
“Politicians should be careful in their words when in this particular atmosphere and have to avoid the rhetoric of blaming lawyers when solicitors and barristers are simply doing their jobs,” said David Greene. Also covered by Scottish Legal News.
The Gazette reported on solicitor members of the Law Society being given the chance to vote on reforms of the organisation.
Proposed reforms, passed at this week’s AGM – live streamed for the first time - included limiting council members’ tenures to 12 years and reducing the number of geographical constituencies.
Legal Futures covered the same story. I’m quoted: “By this proposal the number of geographical seats will be reduced while increasing seats for others including in-house lawyers, junior lawyers and women.
“In line with the democratic decision of the AGM we will now move quickly to enable members to vote on this important issue.”
Solicitors Journal (£) and New Law Journal also ran stories about my inauguration.
The Guardian covered lawyers’ claims that a threatened knife attack against an immigration solicitor was inspired by the government’s rhetoric. Outgoing Law Society president Simon Davis said: “We are monitoring the situation closely and urge both government and media to be mindful of the rhetoric they employ. The role of solicitors is to apply and uphold the laws set down by parliament and they have a right to do so on behalf of their clients without intimidation.”
The Gazette, Independent, Irish Legal News, MSN, Yahoo News, World News, covered the same story. Articles note pressure is growing on government to apologise for the language that has been employed by ministers denouncing lawyers.
Mickaël Laurans, our head of international, spoke with Asian Legal Business about the UK’s relationship with the Asia-Pacific upon our exit from the EU in January.
“The UK has strong historical, cultural and economic links with the region which are buttressed by the English language and the role English law plays in international commercial transactions. Asia is and will remain a priority for both the UK government and the Law Society in its international work,” he said.
City A.M, Personnel Today, Independent and MSN reported that a House of Lords’ EU services subcommittee report found that the UK’s accountants, recruiters, architects, advertisers and lawyers are at risk of losing contracts and jobs when Britain formally leaves the EU in January.
New Law Journal provided new information on the backlog of cases in England’s Magistrates and Crown Courts.
HM Courts and Tribunal figures from September found that there are 509,347 outstanding cases in the Magistrates Courts and 48,713 in the Crown Court.
Simon Davis said: “The latest figures bear out our warning that after years of underfunding and cuts, there was already a significant backlog in the criminal courts, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Gazette reported courts and tribunals service has people with coronavirus symptoms not to come to court despite acknowledging that the law permits people in England to break self-isolation rules.
Also in the Gazette reports trials are being listed for 2022 as the Crown court backlog soars towards 50,000. Simon Davis 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.”
Further coverage of the Crown court backlogs in the Hampshire Chronicle and Andover Advertiser.
Legal Futures and Today’s Wills & Probate reported on the launch of our LawTech, ethics and rule of law discussion paper, which seeks views on the ethical considerations solicitors and firms have in designing or procuring LawTech solutions.
I said: “Behaving ethically is at the heart of what it means to be a solicitor, and, as we rely ever more on technology in our day-to-day business, this paper will seek views on whether lawtech principles will benefit the legal sector.”
Central Housing Group detailed our view that eviction proceedings are in need of wider reform, a month after the stay on evictions was lifted after six months in response to Covid-19.
Simon Davis said: “It is unacceptable that, in the face of a pandemic and difficult economic prospects, tenants are being left without representation during possession proceedings.”
The Daily Mail covered what to include in your will and cites our find a solicitor service.
Public Law Today reported our view that the Independent Review of Administrative Law must protect the six fundamental principles of judicial review.
Law360 (£), the Solicitors Journal (£), Practice Source, Today’s Conveyancer, the Gazette, LexisPSL Risk and Compliance (£) LexisLibrary Profession and Ethics (£) and Australasian Lawyer reported our response to a government consultation on the proposed economic crime levy, which will help fund the tackle against money laundering.
Simon Davis said that the levy is a special tax on the profession, nothing: “Further increasing the costs of doing business impacts the competitiveness of the UK legal sector, and the willingness of law firms to invest in the UK.
“This is compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen large parts of the profession take measures to keep their firms running, while simultaneously preparing for the end of the Brexit transition.”
This week the Law Society submitted our response to the government consultation on the economic crime levy. Whilst the legal profession has a strong interest in a successful, effective and proportionate anti-money laundering regime, we strongly opposed the imposition of the levy warning that such a levy could be harmful to the profession and would represent an additional tax. In our response, we argued that in the event the levy is imposed:
- it would be more appropriately calculated through a model based suspicious activity reports (SARs);
- it should include an exemption for small firms with a revenue of under £10.2 million a year; and
- be based, if a revenue model is used, on AML regulated related activity only.
Click here to view our full response.
Remote hearings in the family justice system – consultation response
We’ve responded to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory's (NFJO) rapid consultation on remote and hybrid hearings in the family justice system. They are continuing their work to support a system-wide understanding of how family justice practices have been shaped by COVID-19 – how approaches have changed, where this has resulted in positive practice innovation and what challenges and difficulties have emerged.
We reiterate the point made in our response to the NFJO’s initial consultation: that access to justice must be preserved and the rule of law upheld. As the rate of infections continues to increase across England and Wales and the safety implications connected with conducting face-to-face hearings remain significant, we still believe proceeding with remote hearings is usually better than delaying them. However, decisions need to be made on a case by case basis, weighing the importance and urgency of the issue against the suitability of proceeding remotely. This must take into account the nature of the hearing and any vulnerabilities of the parties.
Read more here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/consultation-responses/remote-hearings-in-the-family-justice-system-rapid-consultation-the-law-society-response
Update to the non-contentious probate rules: mandating online professional applications
Last month we responded to the government’s consultation on non-contentious probate: mandating online professional applications in which we stated that we agree in principle with making online applications compulsory for all professional applications. However, due to solicitors experiencing teething problems with the new system HMCTS must ensure that issues are resolved and the system is fit for purpose before it is fully rolled out and the new rules come into force.
The government has published its response and has decided to:
- Mandate the use of the online service for grants of probate applications by professional users, with a number of exceptions for more specialised applications
- Continue to allow professional user applications for grants of letters of administration to be made via either the online process or the traditional method of applying to a Registry.
Read more here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/court-reform/news/update-to-the-non-contentious-probate-rules-mandating-online-professional-applications
Lawtech, Ethics and The Rule of Law
We published our Lawtech, Ethics and The Rule of Law discussion paper this week. Earlier this year, we conducted a series of 30 interviews with law firms, sole practitioners and alternative business structures to understand how lawtech solutions are designed, developed, used and/or procured and the ethical considerations that come into play throughout this process. We welcome the views of solicitors, law firms, lawtech companies and any other stakeholders that are part of or affected by the lawtech sector. Responses to the paper are requested by email to email@example.com by 17 November 2020. An expert group will examine the findings and a report with recommendations will be published shortly afterwards.
Throughout the pandemic, the Law Society has been calling for the removal of the Coronavirus Act provisions which weaken the Mental Health Act, and have not been used in England or Wales. The government confirmed it will drop these provisions, which we have published an update of on our website.
We also published a blog post this week, to assist members in making financial deputyship applications to the Court of Protection and avoid potential delays.
On Thursday we celebrated my inauguration as president. I gave a speech outlining my priorities for this year before being interviewed by Clive Coleman, BBC legal affairs correspondent. This was followed by messages of congratulation and support from the lord chancellor, who spoke about the negative rhetoric towards lawyers, and the lord chief justice who spoke about the importance of the rule of law and court reform. My speech can be read here and the lord chancellor’s speech will be available shortly on the website.
Diversity & Inclusion
Survey – Career experiences of BAME lawyers
We have been working with the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division on a programme of research on the career experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers.
Following a series of roundtables held earlier this year, we have launched a sector wide survey to capture obstacles and opportunities of a wider group, examine the challenges identified through the roundtables and collect views on how these challenges can be collectively addressed.
Please take 5 minutes to complete the survey before 23 October 2020. Take the survey.
The future is disability inclusion
Join us on Monday 2 November from 12:30 - 14:00 for the launch of the Legally Disabled survey findings on the impact of Covid-19 on the professional lives of disabled lawyers.
This is a chance for individuals and organisations interested in improving disability inclusion to learn what has worked and what has not during the pandemic, and what could be done better in the future.
Book your place
Fiona Woolf lecture
Our annual Fiona Woolf lecture will be taking place virtually this year on Thursday 19 November.
As always, we will be celebrating the achievements of Dame Fiona Woolf and other inspirational women who have reached senior positions within the sector.
We will be focusing on the positive contribution made by women in the profession and how both intersectionality and diversity enhances organisations and the legal profession.
Book your place
Update from our Brussels Office
- On 13 October, Helena Raulus, head of office along with Evanna Fruithof, Bar Council of England & Wales met with Sujeevan Satheesan and Sasha Trevelyan from UKMIS to discuss the state of play in the UK – EU negotiations.
- On 13 October, Helena Raulus spoke at the British Chamber of Commerce webinar on Lugano on the consequences of not having a solution to the recognition and enforcement of judgments for businesses and consumers.
- On 14 October, the Brussels office hosted a webinar on the impact of Covid-19 on trade in services. Panellists were: Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director, European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE); Alexandra Cardenas, head of public affairs, COVID-19 content manager & LawTech lead at the Law Society of England & Wales and Martin Roy, counsellor in the Trade in Services Division, World Trade Organization (WTO). Anna Drozd, EU policy adviser moderated the discussion.
- On 15 October, Helena Raulus spoke at the Simmons & Simmons Autumn legal update for their clients on the Law Society work on recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
Finally, can I pay tribute to the longest serving President in the Society's long history, Simon Davis who was outstanding in his and the Society's response to the pandemic and all that it threw at the profession and public. It is an honour to follow in his footsteps. I express the gratitude of the profession when I say "Thank you Simon for all you have done!"
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents unless otherwise specified.
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