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 difficult times
The Guardian, the Gazette, the Daily Mail and 30 others reported on the Ministry of Justice’s decision to make video witnessing for wills legal during the coronavirus pandemic. I said: “Although the government’s decision to allow remote witnessing will simplify will making for some during the pandemic and guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse, the government needs to ensure the legislation is properly drafted to minimise unintended consequences and ensure validity.”
The BBC covered the backlog of criminal court cases in Wales. Law Society council member, Scott Bowen, said: “It is getting to the stage now where there are catastrophic effects of the delay, and that’s affecting the public’s confidence in the justice system as a whole.”
Talvinder Penaser, a member of our family law committee, was cited in a BBC Radio Leeds (starts from 02:00) piece on Nightingale courts.
The Justice Committee report on the impact of Covid-19 on the courts featured in New Law Journal. I said: “After years of underfunding and cuts, there were already significant backlogs across the civil and criminal justice systems – which have only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Solicitors Journal reported all court and tribunal users must wear a face covering in public areas of its buildings. David Greene, our vice president, said: “It is difficult in many court buildings to maintain social distancing in public areas. While some buildings are more spacious and may have better ventilation, for most courts this is not the case and the risk of contracting Covid-19 is still very real.”
Athalie Matthews, a senior associate at Farrer & Co, spoke with Channel 5 News about the legal details of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard libel case, which concluded yesterday.
Adele Edwin-Lamerton, a member of our employment law committee, was interviewed by Channel 5 News about employees’ rights upon their return to the UK, amid a newly enforced 14-day quarantine imposed by the government.
The Guardian covered working from home during the coronavirus pandemic and cited our employment law guidance.
Gary Rycroft, a solicitor at Joseph A. Jones & Co Solicitors, spoke to BBC South Today about whether a gym chain’s decision to force all users to wear face masks in the gym, regardless of whether they have a medical condition, is legal.
The New Law Journal and Today’s Conveyancer reported that plans for the economic crime levy on law firms has been published. I said: “We have strong concerns that a further unjustified burden will fall on a sector already under strain. We will be robustly engaging in the consultation process to ensure the profession’s views are well represented.”
The Gazette, Inside Conveyancing, New Law Journal and Legal Futures covered the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s decision to implement its plan to cut the maximum award of its compensation fund from £2 million to £500,000, despite strong opposition from the Law Society and the Legal Services Consumer Panel. I said: “The news that the SRA is going ahead with most of the proposed changes to the Fund is disappointing, but at least they are dropping the issue which caused us the most concern.”
Today’s Wills and Probate looked at our BAME roundtables to identify the barriers facing progression. I said: “BAME solicitors are not sufficiently represented at senior levels in the profession, and we are therefore conducting detailed research into the representation of BAME lawyers across the country.”
Today’s Conveyancer reported on our survey with Legally Disabled to uncover how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the working practices of disabled lawyers. I said: “We know that during the pandemic some disabled people may have had limited or restricted access to support services and personal assistants. Others may have needed new specialist equipment to work from home, but may have been limited in supply.”
Inside Conveyancing spoke to Sarah Dwight, a member of our conveyancing and land law committee, about the Law Commission’s aim to reinvigorate commonhold as an alternative to leasehold. She said: “There has been a low take-up of commonhold in the past, so there needs to be encouragement to use it, perhaps incentives for using it and disincentives for leasehold.”
Q&A event with HMCTS – 5 August, 5.00pm-6.30pm
The Law Society will be hosting a Q&A event with HMCTS focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on Wednesday 5 August, from 5pm to 6.30pm. As a profession, we have a unique opportunity to submit questions to the CEO of HMCTS, Susan Acland-Hood, about HMCTS's response to the pandemic. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12pm on Monday 3 August.
More information about the event and how to book can be found here.
Wearing face coverings in court
HMCTS are asking all court and tribunal users to wear a face covering in the public areas of its buildings in England. This came into effect on 27 July.
Court rooms will continue to be covered by the current government guidance, which states that court users may wear face coverings while in the court room. Face coverings may be allowed to be removed when people are speaking or presenting evidence, and judges or magistrates may ask for them to be removed. You can read the Law Society’s response to this announcement here.
SRA response on the quality of advocacy
The SRA published its response to a consultation on the quality of advocacy that concluded in November 2019. The SRA accepted Law Society’s argument that it is not logical to require solicitors undertaking youth court work to hold the higher rights advocacy qualification, mainly because there is no youth court advocacy module in that qualification.
Change to allow remote witnessing of wills
On Saturday 24 July, the government announced a change to allow video witnessing of wills. Under the current law (Wills Act 1837), it is not permitted to witness a will via video messaging as a witness must be physically present. These changes will be made via new legislation in September and will allow for wills witnessed in such a way to be deemed legal, as long as the quality of the sound and video is sufficient to see and hear what is happening at the time. There will be no change to the requirement of two witnesses.
The measures will be backdated to 31 January 2020, the date of the first confirmed coronavirus case in the UK, and will be in force for two years, which is in line with other coronavirus legislation. From the start of lockdown, the Law Society has been in discussions with the Ministry of Justice regarding the legal requirements for executing a will, including witnessing. Read our statement 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 disabled people 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. Take the survey.
Update from our Brussels office
On 29 July, Helena Raulus, head of our Brussels office, chaired the BBUKOO plenary session with the director for UK-EU Political, Hermione Gough from UKMIS to discuss the result of the last negotiation round.
Our work internationally
Law Society vice president David Greene held a series of virtual bilateral meetings with Bar Associations in Malta, Hungary, France, Austria and Slovakia, to discuss common issues that face the legal profession during the Covid-19 crisis and other issues of interest.
On Tuesday, international policy adviser Alexandra Squires-McCarthy hosted part one of our three part webinar series as an online replacement for English law day in the Ukraine. The event had over 81 registrations and successfully targeted partners of firms in the UK and the Ukraine which aligns with the global legal centre digital campaign.
On Thursday, our director of strategic relations, Stephen Denyer, and international policy adviser, Catherine Brims, participated in a panel discussion run by the Anglo-Australasian Lawyers’ Society (UK chapter) on the Australia-UK free trade agreement and the Law Society’s role in the discussions involving legal services. His Excellency the Honourable Mr George Brandis QC, high commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom, opened and closed the session, noting that legal services should be "a real deliverable in terms of this full trade agreement".
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents.
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