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
Following our statement condemning attacks on the integrity of the legal profession, the Home Office removed communications that referred to immigration lawyers who provide legal advice to migrants as ‘activist lawyers’.
The BBC reported our intervention, and the subsequent Home Office U-turn.
There was widespread media coverage of our successful intervention, including in the:
· Financial Times (£)
· Times (£)
· Daily Mail
· Evening Standard
· Daily Mirror
· 164 regional newspapers
I spoke about the issue on BBC Radio 4 (19m 18s), on BBC London (02:08:00).
and on BBC South East television.
“To describe lawyers who are upholding the law as ‘activist lawyers’ is misleading and dangerous,” I said.
Our statement was also widely shared on social media.
The Guardian reported the criminal justice system is under pressure from three sides, with long-term underfunding leading to a shortage of defence lawyers, the end of the furlough scheme leaving firms facing renewed financial concerns, and a backlog of trials due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I said: “A profession which was already perilously underfunded before the pandemic – with defence firms sinking at alarming rate – has been plunged into even choppier waters by Covid-19.
“We believe it is inappropriate to make drastic cuts to standard monthly payments at a time when many criminal legal aid firms are hanging on for survival and defence solicitors are needed more than ever, given the huge backlog in criminal cases.”
The final two of the ten Nightingale courts opening is covered in the New Law Journal.
Welcoming the news, I said: “Investing in legal aid for early advice and legal representation would help to nip problems in the bud before they escalate and reduce the need for cases to go to court.”
The Gazette reported HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has revealed that nearly 200 courtrooms and 59 retiring rooms will be installed with plexiglass screens by the end of October.
I am quoted: “It is essential that HMCTS maximises the use of physical court space in a way that minimises the risk to court users. These measures appear to be a good method of increasing court usage safely within normal court hours.”
New Law Journal reported the Legal Aid Agency has extended the 2017 Standard Crime Contract until 31 March 2022.
I described the decision to extend as “sensible”, adding: “Beleaguered firms will be relieved not to have to cope with an imminent tender process on top of the great physical and financial strain they are already under, on call to police stations at all hours and with swathes of solicitors on furlough.”
The Gazette reported the Law Society has lodged a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) after they failed to consult properly around a decision to move legal aid cost assessments in-house.
“Cost assessments are vital in ensuring that when legal aid practitioners send a bill it is carefully scrutinised and they are properly paid for their work,” I said.
The Gazette reported jailed Turkish lawyer Ebru Timtik has died just weeks after international bar bodies warned of her deteriorating condition on hunger strike.
Timtik had been sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison on terrorism offences following a trial described as unfair by local and international bar associations. Earlier this month global legal bodies including the International Bar Association, the Law Society of England and Wales and Netherlands-based Lawyers for Lawyers expressed their concern about her treatment.
I joined with others to write a letter to the Independent about protests in Belarus.
“The independence of the legal profession is of the upmost importance in upholding the rule of law,” we said.
The Gazette reports that the legal profession must be more open about women experiencing the menopause at work, in guidance to mark Menopause Awareness Month.
I said: “Firms and legal businesses should try to create a culture which encourages openness, where those experiencing the menopause feel comfortable asking for the help they need to manage their symptoms.”
Also in Law.com international (£) and Legal Futures.
Lorraine Robinson, head of legal at Farewill and co-chair of our wills committee, talked to the Financial Times (£) about video witnessing of wills.
“This is a step in the direction of a more modern approach to witnessing wills – many of the laws are outdated and archaic,” she said.
The lawyer arm of Extinction Rebellion delivered letters to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Council and Law Society yesterday asking them to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, reports the Times (£). Also covered in Legal Futures.
The Solicitors Journal reported that the SRA has identified human error as the biggest cyber risk to firms. “By taking issues like cybersecurity seriously, we ensure the public can continue to have the highest confidence in the profession,” I said.
Law360 (£), Legal Futures, Lexis PSL Insurance and Reinsurance (£) and Lexis Library Health Law (£) report that the International Underwriting Association has warned the legal sector that professional indemnity insurance (PII) could become unsustainable if underwriters aren’t given more freedom to cancel policies.
I said: “The Law Society understands the concerns of insurers and is sympathetic towards their request, but is mindful that the primary purpose of professional indemnity insurance (PII) is to protect solicitors' clients and the wider public.”
Amandeep Khasriya, a member of our women lawyers division, wrote for the New Law Journal that on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, we must look to the future and understand the need for change, with the legal profession needing action, not promises.
I wrote in the Gazette about the Law Society Return, Restart, Recovery campaign to place solicitors within the wider context of the pandemic and discusses what is needed from HM Treasury to help the legal sector support the wider economic recovery.
Find out more about our inaugural virtual technology conference from 22 to 23 September.
The Epoch Times covered the reported legal aid costs in the trial over the death of PC Andrew Harper. I said: “An important pillar of our criminal justice system is that anyone accused of a crime is entitled to a fair trial and for that to happened they need access to a proper defence. To preserve access to justice and the rule of law, legal representation must be available to those without the means to provide it.”
Richard Atkinson, co-chair of our criminal law committee told the Telegraph (£) that if any of those convicted in the case is granted permission to appeal, they would be entitled to access legal aid.
“It is for a judge to decide whether there is merit in the appeal, and if they believe there is, they will grant access to legal aid funds but if there’s no merit in the appeal, he will not only refuse permission to appeal, but also refuse access to legal aid,” he said.
News that tenants in England facing eviction have been granted a notice period extension from three months to six months in new government legislation was covered by the Birmingham Mail, Landlord Zone, Property Wire and Landlord Today.
I said: “This notice period extension will provide relief for those tenants facing eviction, and will give vulnerable tenants the time they need to seek help and find a new place to live.”
Last week we responded to a stakeholder consultation from the Family Procedure Rules Committee on enforcing family financial orders. The consultation looked at some proposals for changes to the Family Procedure Rules and were principally aimed at making the procedure for the General Enforcement Application clearer and more effective. The response was compiled with assistance from the Family Law Committee.
Act for justice and #WriteToRishi
It is vital that chancellor Rishi Sunak hears your voice for justice.
Justice spending has been falling for nearly a decade and has not been prioritised by government. Coronavirus and the lockdown have made the situation worse, the queue of criminal cases in the magistrates courts is over 500,000 and in the crown courts it exceeds 40,000. This is placing further strain on the system, with the most vulnerable struggling to get their cases heard.
This spending review is a once in a generation opportunity for our justice system.
We are calling on all solicitors to write to the chancellor to ensure that our justice system and legal services sector is equipped with the funding it needs to face the challenges of the future.
Use this quick and easy tool which takes just two minutes to complete.
Private International Law Bill second reading
Yesterday the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. The Law Society was mentioned twice by Sir Bob Neill MP, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee.
Neill argued that acceding to the Lugano Convention would be a step forward. He acknowledged there was debate in the Lords on sequencing of Lugano and the Hague 2019 Convention, but said that he was “persuaded by the evidence that we have heard over the years and the arguments made by the Law Society of England and Wales…that the more important thing is not to have any gap in the recognition and enforcement of judgments and recognition of international public clauses.” He went on to say that this is why “the Law Society favours pressing ahead with entry to Lugano as soon as we can” and restating his agreement.
Also discussed were parliamentary scrutiny, family law co-operation, and the devolved legislatures.
Diversity and Inclusion
Virtual D&I Conference – Master of the Rolls to speak
Join us and Leeds Law Society in keeping D&I at the forefront of the conversation.
We are hosting six virtual events, focused on a variety of topics, where we’ll be joined by esteemed speakers sharing best practice and talking through the challenges faced by individuals within the profession.
Come and be a part of the discussion.
- Social Mobility: Tuesday 15 September 5pm - 7pm
- Mental Health and Wellbeing: Thursday 17 September 5pm - 7pm
- Gender: Tuesday 22 September 5pm - 7pm
- Disability: Thursday 24 September 5pm - 7pm
- LGBT+: Tuesday 29 September 5pm - 7pm
- Race and Ethnicity: Thursday 1 October 5pm - 7pm
The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, has now been added to the already impressive list of speakers.
Virtual President and Secretaries Conference
Join us on the 23 September 9am-12pm for an interactive and informative morning for Local Law Society representatives. You will hear from all three office holders, our Public Affairs team, our Diversity and Inclusion team and other Local Law Society representatives. Please contact your local Relationship Manager for further information, or email LLSconference@lawsociety.org.uk
As always, please feel free to share this update with your constituents.
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