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
The Gazette, The Times (£), The Mirror and seven other publications covered the Justice Select Committee’s (JSC) report on the devastating impact Covid-19 on the legal profession in England and Wales, citing Law Society research. I said: “In these challenging times, it is vital that the wheels of justice continue to turn. The government must heed the select committee and our calls on supporting legal aid firms through the crisis.”
Richard Miller, our head of justice, also spoke with LBC News about the impact of Covid-19 on the legal sector following the Justice Select Committee's report. Richard highlighted the plight of legal aid funded lawyers, who were in a dire situation prior to the pandemic.
Clive Thomas, an incoming member of our Wales committee, wrote for the Gazette on life during lockdown. He said: “The mould has been broken and it presents a real opportunity to work in a way that best suits us and our clients – rather than just because that is how we have always done things.”
The Gazette noted criminal solicitors are reporting being unable to take urgent instructions from their clients because timely video link appointments are not available. I commented: “It cannot be right that a court is in a position to give someone in custody an expedited trial date, but they cannot take advantage of that opportunity because their solicitor cannot take instructions.”
Also on criminal justice, BBC Wales Today and BBC Wales Breakfast reported on the growing case backlogs in our criminal justice system and cite our warnings that the system is on its knees even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Solicitor’s Journal covered the Bellwether report on legal services, which found three quarters of firms have moved staff to effective homeworking. A Law Society spokesperson said: “Many firms, particularly in the legal aid sector, need further UK government support urgently, and with an ongoing lack of clarity about when the courts system can safely get back to capacity, these problems need to be addressed now.”
The Gazette reported the Rt. Hon. Sir Geoffrey Vos, the chancellor of the High Court, will take over from Sir Terence Etherton as master of the rolls in January 2021. I said: “We look forward to working with the new master of the rolls to promote England and Wales as a global legal centre.”
The New Law Journal reported nominations have opened for Next 100 Years’ annual Inspirational Women in Law Awards and that our deputy vice president I. Stephanie Boyce will be a judge for the awards.
Free Legal Answers, an access to justice charity created by LawWorks and supported by Deloitte Legal has called for solicitors to contribute to a new online advice service which has been set up to answer one-off legal questions free to charge, the Gazette reported. I said: “This can be life-changing for people who would otherwise have to navigate the justice system without expert help.”
SCL.org notes that the Home Office will stop using its ‘visa streaming’ algorithm in response to legal action and our repeated warnings on the risk of bias being introduced into decision-making through the algorithm. I said: "The Law Society has been raising the alarm for some time that there are systemic risks with using algorithms to filter immigration applications, as this process may embed bias against certain groups of people based on generic markers such as nationality, country of origin, age or whether they have travelled before.” Read our press release.
Covid-19 and the rule of law
The Law Society is examining the extent to which the rule of law and access to justice has been affected during the pandemic, particularly for those living in vulnerable situations (from care homes to prisons). If you work with client groups whose rights and liberties may have been particularly affected by the emergency measures taken by government, you can help us by filling in this survey and sharing it with your networks: https://lawsociety.questionpro.eu/t/AB3urfqZB3u5Sv
The information you provide will be used in our forthcoming report to influence the six month review of the Coronavirus Act. Questions cover:
- the extent to which you were able to maintain contact with clients
- if clients were able to effectively access courts and tribunals
- if external scrutiny of your client’s situation has been maintained
- various additional issues across disability and mental health, domestic violence, children and housing.
Following correspondence from the Law Society, the Home Office confirmed that they intend to formalise the approach that has been taken during the pandemic within the Immigration Rules, with an aim for this to happen in Autumn 2020. They also confirmed that the gov.uk webpage would be updated, as requested, to reflect the blanket grace period for people whose leave to remain in the UK expires before 31 August 2020 along with further details.
Justice Committee reports
On Monday (3 August) the Justice Select Committee published a report on the impact of coronavirus on the legal profession. The Committee makes a series of recommendations to government in the report, including specific endorsement for the Law Society’s call for further support for legal aid firms. The full report can be read here.
That report follows a report from the Justice Select Committee last Thursday (30 July), following the Committee’s inquiry on the impact of coronavirus on our courts and tribunals. The Law Society’s evidence to the committee was specifically referenced in the report, which included a number of recommendations to government and HMCTS focused on the criminal and civil courts and tribunals, technology, and the recovery plan. That report can be read in full here.
Diversity and Inclusion
Will the new normal be a disability inclusive working environment?
In partnership with Legally Disabled, we have launched a survey to gather experiences of people with disabilities in the profession both during lockdown and post-lockdown.
We will use these insights to inform best practice for the future and to evidence aspects of remote working which could benefit disabled people working within the legal sector in the long term. The survey is open until Sunday 16 August and should take only 20-25 minutes to complete. Please take the survey.
Leeds Law Society virtual conference
Join us and Leeds Law Society from Tuesday 15 September to Thursday 1 October for a series of virtual events focused on diversity and inclusion.
We will be hearing from a range of speakers on topics including; social mobility, mental health and wellbeing, gender, disability LGBT+ and race.
Book your place
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents.
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