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.
Practising fee consultation
You will know that we are communicating with members about our proposed reduction in our portion of the practising fee.
The detail is here
A Gazette article from Paul Tennant explains more
Please encourage members to give their views here:
Returning to the workplace: What law firms need to consider
The government has published its “roadmap” document, which outlines the COVID-19 recovery strategy including a roadmap to the lifting of restrictions step-by-step. Fourteen supporting programmes are included in the document, which focus on the fight against the virus, communication and governance. In addition to the roadmap document, new guidance on staying safe outside your home, and an updated list of vulnerable groups has been published here.
Watch our returning to the workplace WEBINAR where we provide an overview of our latest discussions with government, the up-to-date guidance and discuss the challenges that law firms now need to consider.
We have promoted our new campaign to highlight the great work the profession has been doing for clients and the community during the pandemic. You can read more here.
Please encourage your constituents to share their stories.
Letter to Department of Education on the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
We wrote a letter to the director of children’s social care (practice and workforce at the department for education (DoE)) expressing our concerns about the amendments to children's legislation made under these regulations. We highlighted they remove a lot of the safeguards and protections afforded to children. We requested that the DoE review these regulations and consider improved use of technology in its place. We also requested that the department set out any plans of evaluating the impact of these regulations and any corresponding plans to make them permanent.
More courts to be reopened from Monday 15 June
HMCTS has provided a list of courts due to be reopened on Monday 15 June. It must be noted that these sites are subject to any operational changes between now and then. View the full list here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/stories/more-courts-due-to-reopen-from-15-june-2020/
Civil Justice Council report on the impact of COVID-19 on civil court users published
The Civil Justice Council conducted a rapid review on how the civil justice system has been impacted by the pandemic, with a particular focus on remote hearings. Overall the report shows that lawyers have had a positive experience of conducting remote hearings, but this should not be a permanent substitute for traditional face-to-face hearings. Particular concerns were raised regarding vulnerable court users, the reliance on technology, and the lack of adequate data to draw conclusions from. The Civil Justice Council will use this report as a basis for further research and review. More information can be found here: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/civil-justice-council-report-on-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-civil-court-users-published/
Update of proposed Economic Crime levy
Whilst attention has been on COVID-19 related issues the past few months, we have continued our engagement with the Treasury on the proposed economic crime levy. We have been pushing the government to delay the publication of the consultation (intended for the spring) due to the impact of COVID-19. We are pleased to see that they have listened to our concerns and have delayed publication until mid-July and we expect the consultation to run for at least three months.
As part of this, the Treasury has been hosting roundtables with all the sectors due to be covered by the levy to help understand some of the sector-specific issues associated with the development of the levy. Officials held the legal sector roundtable last Friday with representatives from the Law Society, Bar Council, and Law Society for Scotland. Discussions focused on:
- the issues around the appropriate metric for setting the levy with a particular focus on revenue
- the best way for account for AML risk, looking at the number of SARs, the National Risk Assessment (NRA) or supervisor’s risk assessment as potential measures
- the issues associated with introducing an exemption for small firms from paying the levy
During justice questions, Karen Buck MP raised a question regarding support for legal aid firms struggling as a result of the coronavirus crisis, noting the Law Society’s warnings of firms collapsing. The Minister responded by noting that the government have made some support available.
On Tuesday I spoke at the second LAWASIA Human Rights Conference Webinar alongside representatives from a range of jurisdictions. I discussed the powers created under the UK’s emergency legislation, the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the conflict between the need to respond to a rapidly changing situation and the need for clarity in Government announcements regarding Covid-19 measures. We all agreed on the importance of lawyers’ associations remaining vigilant throughout this time so that the drastic measures adopted to combat this unprecedented crisis do not remain in place a moment longer than they must. You can watch a recording of the webinar online https://www.lawasia.asn.au/government-accountability-during-covid-19-citizens-right-know
I also appeared before the Lords' EU services sub-committee on Thursday as part of their inquiry into Brexit and professional and business services.
The Law Society was mentioned twice during the second reading debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill. Bob Neill MP (Conservative) referenced our call to maintain the existing evidential requirement for imposing Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs), rather than relax it as the Bill proposes, while Gavin Robinson MP (DUP) referenced our concerns that the Bill would take TPIMs closer to the control orders they replaced, which faced several high profile human rights challenges in the courts.
During Justice oral questions on Tuesday, the Law Society was mentioned by name in a question by Labour MP and chair of the APPG on Legal Aid, Karen Buck MP, to justice minister Alex Chalk. The question asked what discussions had been had with the Treasury to support the sector. Responding, Mr Chalk said steps have been taken to ensure that where there is money in the system (more than £400 million) that this is more easily available for practitioners to draw down, so that they can be helped during this crisis.
The Law Society was mentioned four times during the second reading debate on the Divorce Dissolution Bill, including the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland MP, referencing one of our recommendations and the justice minister, Alex Chalk MP , quoting me directly.
On Tuesday our Vice President David Greene, attended the German Federal Bar (BRAK) Bar Leaders' Roundtable on the theme of bars’ responses to the Covid 19 pandemic. International Bar leaders reported on the impact of the pandemic on their countries, the measures they have taken and exchanged views on how the crisis will affect the global legal profession in the long term.
We have been in the media this week to promote the role and value of the profession in difficult times
I was quoted in an Economist (£) piece about getting jury trials back on track.
“Justice must not be done and be seen to be done, but feel to be done,” I said.
I wrote an article for the Times (£) about the potential for lawtech to provide solutions to post-crisis recovery.
I said: “the adoption of new technologies could more than double the size of lawtech. The speed in which we are all able to contribute to economic recovery may depend on the extent to which we can embrace, support and encourage growth in technological innovation.”
As courts begin to reopen following a partial lifting of lockdown restrictions, the Gazette reported that Gray & Co Solicitors has had to chase HM Courts & Tribunal for a court risk assessment for Warrington Magistrates’ Court. I said: “We would be concerned if people were being asked to attend court before an assessment has been supplied. Where a court is failing to do so, this should be raised with HMCTS at the earliest opportunity.”
Daniel Fitzpatrick on our housing law committee spoke to BBC Radio Newcastle (1:23:12) about student’s legal rights if they are still paying rent for student accommodation but have moved out due to Covid-19.
The Mirror investigated people’s rights if they have to pay an annual fee for their caravan site but are unable to visit due to Covid-19. They cite our find a solicitor tool for those looking for a solicitor.
Max Winthrop, chair of our employment law committee, took part in an hour long phone-in on LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty show (from 02.10) to talk about employment, particularly focusing on furlough and redundancies.
Law Society chief executive Paul Tennant wrote for the Gazette on the launch of the PC fee consultation and the Society’s proposal to decrease our ask of the profession by 10%. He said: “We know every penny counts and we want to be sure we only ask members for what we need to serve them and the profession effectively.”
I wrote a letter to the Times about the no-fault divorce bill in which I said: “Introducing no-fault divorce will help to remove unnecessary conflict from an already fraught situation. However, there are important details that need to be considered to ensure that the bill is clear, fair and accessible for all.”
David Hodson, a member of our family law committee, was on talkRadio (in the 10:30 – 11:00 slot from 04:58) also discussing the bill.
The Gazette, Times (£), Inside Conveyancing, Today’s Wills and Probate and Legal Futures all report on our response to the Mayson review in which I am quoted.
Update from our Brussels office
On Thursday 4 June, Marcus Corry met with Jan Dopheide, Brexit lead at the German Perm Rep to discuss the UK-EU FTA negotiations as part of the PBSC delegation. This was followed on Friday 5 June with a meeting with Andrew Wood at UK Mission in Brussels.
On 8 June, Helena Raulus, head of the Brussels office, attended the BBUKOO Plenary meeting which included an exchange of views with Fabian Zuleeg, CEO of the European Policy Centre. The meeting also aimed to prepare for the plenary UK Mission update about the 4th round of EU/UK negotiations.
Also on Monday 8 June Marcus Corry met with:
- DG TRADE; Dermot Ryan, chief of cabinet to Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan
- Stephen O’Dwyer, Irish Perm Rep
- Alenka Jaschke, Brexit Taskforce, European Council
- Pascal Kerneis, European Services Forum
- Benedikt Wiedenhofer, Business Europe
The discussion was about the EU-UK FTA negotiations and our wider work on Lugano Convention and Data Adequacy as well as MRPQ and Lugano.
As always, please feel free to share this update with your members.
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