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 Financial Times (£) published my letter about the how the justice system’s use of algorithms requires proper oversight
“What is needed is transparency, centralised co-ordination and systematic knowledge sharing between the public bodies which use algorithms, to ensure they are designed, procured and deployed lawfully,” I wrote.
The plight of two lawyers on hunger strike was covered in the Gazette.
I said: “The Law Society reiterates its support for lawyers in Turkey, who should be allowed to practise their profession freely without undue external interference.”
This week I was on Times Radio (1:38:43) explaining how the Covid-19 pandemic has left law centres and high street firms at risk.
The Gazette, the Solicitors Journal, Legal Action Group, New Law Journal and Free Movement reported lord chancellor Robert Buckland’s move to revoke a controversial fixed fee regime for immigration and asylum appeals work after legal aid firm Duncan Lewis Solicitors began judicial review proceedings.
Duncan Lewis’ claim was supported by letters of support from the Law Society and the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.
I pointed out half of immigration appeals are successful - “clear evidence of how important it is that people have recourse to the tribunal to challenge Home Office decisions that have a profound impact on their future”.
The Independent provided a detailed overview of the UK criminal justice system, citing the problems with the current legal aid system which deny the public access to justice.
Our research on ‘legal aid deserts,’ which was published last year, found that more than half of local authorities in England and Wales have no publicly funded legal advice for housing.
We said: “People facing homelessness or trying to challenge a rogue landlord increasingly cannot get the expert legal advice they desperately need.”
The Gazette, Law360 (£) and Lexis Library (£) looked at our asks on law and justice in the comprehensive spending review.
I said: “We urge the government to support our justice system and world-leading legal services sector to ensure they are well equipped with the funding needed to face the challenges of the future.”
The Gazette, Law360 (£) and New Law Journal reported the Law Society’s warning that plans to extend court hours will hit overstretched and underfunded criminal defence firms hard when the capacity to cover the additional hours may not even exist.
We have published guidance for practitioners faced with the prospect of working extended court hours ahead of a pilot beginning next week.
I said: “We have repeatedly made clear to the Ministry of Justice that extended hours are not the right approach to tackling the backlogs in the courts because of the significant impact they would have on court users, legal practitioners and how our justice system functions.”
The Guardian highlighted a report from the Gazette that Manchester Crown Court has closed again after three people tested positive for coronavirus, according to the barristers’ representative body, the Northern Circuit.
A total of 64 crown courts have resumed jury trials in areas including Bristol, Swansea, Chelmsford, Northampton, Leeds, Basildon, Worcester and Shrewsbury.
Our interactive map showing which Nightingale courts are operational features in the New Law Journal.
“We believe the government can build court capacity to clear the backlog by using unused public buildings – including court buildings which have been closed but have remained unsold – as Nightingale courts,” I said.
In July, the Ministry of Justice announced the 10 Nightingale courts which are hoped to ease the pressure on the justice system.
The Solicitors Journal looked at what steps HM Courts and Tribunals Service should take to keep solicitors and other court users safe and informed during the covid-19 pandemic.
I said: “It is absolutely vital that HMCTS maintains clear and immediate communications with solicitors and other court users on what is happening in their courts and tribunals buildings – especially if a staff member has displayed any covid-19 symptoms.”
The Times (£), Gazette and Solicitors Journal reported that reduced sentences for early guilty pleas might be scrapped. I said: “In the absence of credit for a guilty plea a defendant may conclude that they have nothing to lose by going to trial, leading to victims having to testify and costly trials.”
Today’s Wills and Probate reported on a consultation on making online probate applications compulsory.
Chair of the Law Society Wills and Equity Committee, Ian Bond, is quoted saying: “Practitioners will want to have the assurance that the online systems are working and tested before mandating its use; that service levels will not decline; and, that these changes will not lead to (excessive) changes to fees.”
The Gazette carried analysis of the Law Society’s Lawtech adoption and training report, noting its release was timely and that the survey results provide useful confirmation of the state of play in the profession.
Ursula Collie, a local solicitor, wrote for the Northern Echo on people’s consumer rights if their wedding is cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic as part of our legal agony column series.
From 3 to 31 August, the UK public will be able to eat out for half price as some of the UK’s restaurants take part in the government’s Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.
Henry Bermigham, a partner at Weightmans, spoke with BBC Radio Humberside (from 2:17:44) about who is liable if a patron contracts Covid-19 while eating out a restaurant.
Nightingale Courts status interactive map
On 19 July 2020, the government announced that it would be opening ‘Nightingale Courts’ as part of its court recovery plan to address the impact of Covid-19 on the justice system. We’ve created an interactive map which shows the location of open, and proposed, Nightingale Courts as well as the type of work being heard in these venues.
View the map and further resources here. Read the full press release here.
On Wednesday (12 August) we launched a campaign action as part of the Law Society’s Return, Restart and Recovery campaign.
With the comprehensive spending review now underway, the Law Society is calling for solicitors and supporters to write to the chancellor to urge him to ensure that our justice system and legal services sector is equipped with the funding it needs to face the challenges of the future.
The comprehensive spending review sets out departmental spending for the years ahead, and is the biggest opportunity to influence government spending priorities for the next few years.
This spending review is a once in a generation opportunity for our justice system, which contributes significantly to our economy, underpins our society and in turn facilitates growth across other parts of our economy. It is vital that the chancellor hears your voice.
You can write to the chancellor of the exchequer using our quick and easy tool in just two minutes.
Diversity and Inclusion
Virtual D&I Conference – Master of the Rolls to speak
We were very pleased when Leeds Law Society approached us about working together on a D&I conference. Now that it must be a virtual one, anyone anywhere can sign-up.
Running from 15 September to 1 October, and so incorporating National Inclusion Week, there will be six events; each covering a different topic:
- Social mobility
- Mental health
Book your place
A disability inclusive future
In partnership with Legally Disabled, we have launched a survey to capture the experiences of disabled solicitors and trainees and how they have navigated remote working during lockdown.
Help us build a more disability inclusive profession by completing the survey by Sunday 16 August.
Take the survey
Update from our Brussels Office
The Law Society submitted its consultation response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on departing from retained EU case law by UK courts and tribunals
Our work internationally
On 14 August the Law Society, the Confederation of Indian Industry and Clyde & Co hosted a webinar on the “Impact of COVID19 on legal sector and how to handle contractual disputes in the UK & Indian jurisdictions”
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents.
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