Influencing for impact
The Law Society, as the professional body for solicitors, has a pivotal role in protecting the rule of law. Our statements regarding last month’s Supreme Court judgment and the independence of the judiciary were well reported. Council discussed how we best ensure that we work to help the public understand the rule of law and its importance.
The current possibility of leaving the EU without a deal on 31 October means we have continued to promote and communicate to members our nine guidance notes on steps solicitors could take in such a scenario (on civil cooperation, consumer law, criminal justice, data protection, family law, intellectual property, VAT and providing legal services in the EU). We have worked with the Ministry of Justice on a series of regional roadshows to help members understand the issues and our guidance to help them prepare.
Council endorsed our current position of pointing out the negative implications of no-deal for the profession, the economy and the public’s right to access to justice – encouraging the government to avoid it, and lobbying relevant cabinet ministers (while not taking sides in political debate).
To influence the administration, on 1 August we published a report on the Law Society’s requests for the UK-EU future relationship for legal services. It sets out the need for an association-style agreement with the EU. The report was widely covered in the press. We shared it with ministers, officials and parliamentarians, including the chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill MP. The president told council that in many of his meetings with ministers and officials, they are using our messaging.
We continue to engage with relevant EU bars and law societies on what steps could be taken in a no-deal situation. We are developing memoranda of understanding (MOUs), having recently signed one with Belgium, and we also have existing and developing MOUs in a number of countries outside Europe.
We will shortly be publishing a report promoting England and Wales as jurisdiction of choice.
Criminal justice campaign
We published a report (Justice on Trial) in June which highlights problems across the whole criminal justice system. This resulted in extensive media coverage, including on the Today programme, in the Daily Mail, Independent and in over 70 local news outlets.
As a result of our campaigning, lobbying and the lobbying of other representative groups, the MoJ has announced areas of work it intends to bring forward for accelerated implementation under the criminal legal aid review.
In light of the government’s announcement of increased funding for police, prisons and the probation service, we have updated our messaging to stress the need for funding across the whole criminal justice system. This messaging has received wide coverage including in the Guardian and in local media.
We wrote a letter to the chief secretary to the Treasury calling for increased funding for the criminal justice system.
Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)
Council was updated on the latest SQE proposals, set to be introduced from September 2021, and discussed the implications for the profession. The Society has published an overview of the proposals and supporting resources, including a podcast series to help members understand the proposals, and a series of roundtables, one of which will feature in the Gazette. You can see more on our website.
We continue to raise issues with the Solicitors Regulation Authority around the nature of the exam, qualifying work experience, and equality and diversity. We are also raising issues about funding availability to reduce financial barriers to students. We want to protect the international reputation of English and Welsh solicitors and be sure that the quality of candidates coming through SQE delivers consistently.
Diversity in our profession
Council was encouraged to sign up to the Women in Law Pledge as we approach the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. Launched in June, the pledge is for the whole legal sector. Details are on our website.
The revised Diversity and Inclusion Charter is currently being piloted by firms of varying sizes across the regions. It requires evidence-gathering and action planning, and will have a modular approach. It is planned that we will learn from the pilot and launch in 2020.
Budget and business plan
The Council agreed the business plan for 2019/20. The themes of the plan were set by a Council strategic planning event in March and set our policy priorities for the next business year, for which the practising fee has been frozen at 2016/17 levels.
The themes are: Access to justice and the rule of law, Brexit and the international practice of law, civil justice, property, regulation, the role of the profession (economic crime), the reputation of the profession and technology.
We promote the profession, influence for impact, keep members up to date, support practice excellence and are a career companion. The plan also sets our intention to look at how we serve particular groups of our members, including what we offer, what we charge for and how we communicate. We will start with junior lawyers and in-house lawyers.
Council received a presentation on work to look at the representative nature of Council. Views have been extensively canvassed by members of the relevant committee. More work will be done before proposals come to Council for final consideration.
The next meeting of Council is 5 December.