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, Inside Conveyancing, Property Week, Connect East Midlands and the Commercial Property Hub reported that the Business and Property Court is on the brink of major technological change, as 85% of business and property cases have been handled remotely since March.
I am quoted saying: “When the UK lockdown began, the business and property courts quickly moved from physical to virtual hearings, showing that our system adapts creatively to meet the needs of businesses at home and overseas."
Meanwhile Today’s Conveyancer and Today’s Wills & Probate reported that, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the profession has begun to embrace technology and has been utilising software such as Microsoft Teams and Skype, while deeds are being dealt with electronically and wills can be witnessed by video.
“As we enter this new phase of the response to the coronavirus, with government beginning to lift some restrictions, it is clear that technology will play a vital role in driving the post-coronavirus recover across all sectors of the economy, including legal services,” I said.
The Gazette reported that four more Nightingale courts have opened this week in Hertfordshire, Middlesbrough, Swansea and Telford.
While we are pleased to see more courts open, I said: “We believe the government can avoid extended hours and build court capacity to clear the backlog by efficiently using unused public buildings – including court buildings which have been closed but have remained unsold – as Nightingale courts.”
The Times (£) meanwhile had a report on disquiet in the profession over extended court hours.
I said: “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 Gazette, Solicitors Journal and Legal Futures cover the issue of whether legal professionals should be permitted to break quarantine to attend hearings and tribunals.
I said: “Allowing lawyers to break quarantine to attend hearings will increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and pose a significant danger to court users – particularly from those who may attend court unaware they are an asymptomatic carrier.”
The Solicitors Journal reported the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) warning to the profession to be vigilant when advising on investment schemes.
I welcomed the renewed warning to solicitors and said: “Concerns about fraudulent investment schemes were a significant motivation behind the SRA's recent decision to reform the Compensation Fund… and – because the Compensation Fund is paid for by a levy on SRA-regulated firms and individuals – place a considerable burden on the profession as a whole.”
Litigation Futures, Lexis PSL Information Law (£), Lexis PSL Brexit (£) and LexisLibrary Constitutional Law (£) reported the Law Society’s warning of “legal havoc” if the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are allowed to depart from EU case law after the Brexit transition period.
The Gazette carried my opinion piece on the Law Society’s contribution to UK trade negotiations. Specifically, we submitted that the government should commit to being at least as transparent and consultative on trade matters as the European Commission.
I noted we also “argued that all trade discussions must go hand in hand with negotiations on continued market access for professional services. Comprehensive stakeholder involvement goes a long way to addressing the concerns around FTA discussions”.
The UK in a changing Europe discusses the challenges for professional services’ market access post-Brexit, citing evidence provided by head of international at the Law Society, Mickael Laurans to Parliament’s International Trade Committee that legal professionals could end up facing 31 different regulatory regimes across Europe if market access for professional services is not integrated into negotiations.
Max Winthrop, chair of our employment law committee, spoke with BBC Radio Northampton (from 3:12:04) about the recent news that 300 employees had tested positive for Covid-19 at Greencore in Northampton, where he provided a legal explainer on what rights employees have if they are forced to self-isolate and whether they are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay
Gary Rycroft, chair of the Law Society’s digital assets working group, spoke with Talk Radio (starts from 03:13 in the 16:30 – 17:00 time slot) and LBC about people’s consumer rights if travelling or returning from France and other countries which now have quarantine rules.
Money Saving Expert meanwhile covered people’s rights if they need to reschedule or cancel their holiday and signposts our Find a Solicitor service.
Melinda Giles, a member of our wills and equity committee, spoke to BBC Radio Solent (starts from 14:42) about how having a dedicated home office might leave people liable to capital gains tax if they sell up.
The Independent reported that vigilante attacks could be on the rise if people lose trust in the criminal justice system. Richard Atkinson, co-chair of our criminal law committee, said: “There is a real risk that if the justice system will be so severely undermined, people may start to decide there is no point reporting matters and they should deal with them in another way themselves.”
The Gazette reported that fixed recoverable costs could have a devastating effect on housing legal aid. In our consultation response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation, the Law Society said: “Whilst some forms of housing disrepair cases can be relatively straightforward, many cases arise by way of counterclaim in possession proceedings and the issues become far more complex.”
We met with the CMA as part of our ongoing engagement on their look into remedies. This follows their review of legal services in 2016. The CMA confirmed that they will be going ahead with their review to evaluate the recommendations from their legal services study in 2016. We are exploring some of the issues with members, which will complement research the SRA is undertaking. We will be meeting with the CMA again in early September.
HMCTS answers members’ questions on the impact of Covid-19 on the Courts and Tribunals Service
We have uploaded a recording of our Q&A event with HMCTS which focused on the impact of COVID-19, the work that has been undertaken within the court service and the work that still needs to be addressed as part of the court recovery plan.
You can view the recording here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/campaigns/court-reform/features/hmcts-answers-members-questions-on-the-impact-of-covid19-to-the-courts-and-tribunals-service
The link also allows you to download a copy of the Q&As. We will be updating this document once we are in receipt of the responses to the questions that could not be answered during the event.
Global Legal Centre campaign highlights courts and solicitors role in supporting business through covid-19 pandemic
On Wednesday, we launched a new phase of our Global Legal Centre campaign to highlight how the business and property courts in England and Wales have successfully adapted to keep the wheels of justice turning with 85% of national and international business disputes in the business and property courts being concluded remotely using technology during the pandemic.
As part of the campaign we:
- Published statistics from the judiciary highlighting how well the business and property courts had kept the wheels of justice turning since March. Read our press release: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/contact-or-visit-us/press-office/press-releases/watershed-moment-for-business-and-property-courts-in-england-and-wales
- Published a blog on the UK’s response by chancellor of the High Court Sir Geoffrey Vos
- Started a social media campaign targeting domestic and international businesses to highlight the success of courts and legal profession. You can watch and share our short animation here
- Launched an online hub on the response of the England and Wales to covid-19 for international audiences)
Diversity and Inclusion
Making the profession disability inclusive
Join us and our Lawyers with Disabilities Division for a series of virtual roundtables discussing "easy wins" for disability inclusion within organisations and local Law Societies. We’ll also be joined by the Legally Disabled team to give a constructive overview of their research into the career experiences of disabled people within the legal sector.
Get in touch to book
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
The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, has now been added to the already impressive list of speakers.
Book your place
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents.
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