Solicitors’ charity, criminal cases, SQE and Land Registry data: your letters to the editor
Solicitors charity still going strong
Your 29 July article about SBA The Solicitors’ Charity (‘Charity case’) suggested that our ‘income was down and support waning’. This is far from the current reality and the snapshot that you presented, based on figures from 2017, is out of date.
In 2018, our overall income was 11% higher than 2017 and net income rose by £200,000. In 2019, we forecast that our financial support from solicitors’ firms and individual donors will be higher still.
Like many charities, not all income streams are predictable. This is why we continue to build strong, income-bearing investments as well as robust free reserves that are available to smooth out any variations in income.
We have a powerful record of giving support. In 2018, we provided direct help to 330 solicitors in need, 8% more than 2017 and up one-third on 2015. We also funded LawCare to provide emotional support and guidance to a further 251 solicitors.
For 200 years we have supported the profession and, unfortunately, the need for our work remains as strong as ever. To ensure our support to members of the profession continues and can grow, we continue to need as much help as the profession can provide. We are grateful daily to receive transfers of residual client balances from firms across the country, against which we give an absolute indemnity, and donations both from firms and individual solicitors.
We are also grateful to receive not just financial support: solicitors come forward in increasing numbers to volunteer with us.
We have a vision of ‘no solicitor unsupported in times of need and crisis’. We will continue to do all that we can to make that vision a reality.
Chair, SBA board of trustees
People need to know about criminal cases
I read your editorial (9 September) and the research by the University of the West of England with interest and concern.
The public should be able to know far more about what happens to nearly 90% of the criminal cases that are dealt with in the magistrates’ courts. As you wrote, anything is, indeed, better than nothing.
Rest assured, the tradition of local court reporting is alive and well north of Watford. In my local court a defendant was due to appear for low-value criminal damage. I was told by the prosecutor that the defendant was due that day to appear at the local Crown court for sentence for a dwelling burglary. I asked the prosecutor whether they might ‘take a view’ given that the defendant faced a far lengthier sentence elsewhere. The prosecutor asked for an adjournment to await the outcome of the Crown court hearing.
I was at the point of agreeing, when our court reporter from the local paper came into the courtroom. She made a bee-line for the prosecutor and in an audible whisper said ‘three years’. The prosecutor, without missing a beat, informed me: ‘Sir, I am now in a position to withdraw the matter of damage.’
Local justice, speedily reported and efficiently delivered.
District judge (magistrates’ court), York
Super-exam choices raise more questions
Apart from the calculated slur inherent in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s belief that BAME candidates are incapable of triumphing in a written skills test, I would like to add to points concerning the problems posed by a multiple-choice paper in the Solicitors Qualifying Exam.
This year I have answered continuing education compulsory multiple-choice questions in five separate disciplines, ranging from money laundering to sanctions. In each there has been at least one ‘correct’ answer which could be open to proper challenge or elucidation. As has been pointed out, multiple-choice goes nowhere near the intellectual challenge required to properly answer an essay question.
Shortly after completing the sanctions course, the Royal Marines stormed the Grace 1 and Iran likewise diverted the Stena Impero. The multiple-choice answer to the legality of either would have to cover quite a few pages and whatever was written would certainly be open to proper challenge or elucidation. The conclusion of the SQE piloting exercise makes depressing reading.
Selsey, West Sussex
So the SRA is considering making Stage 1 of the SQE entirely multiple choice. Following a pilot exercise, it worries that ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic… candidates… were disadvantaged compared with white candidates’.
While the SRA clearly has a worthy aim, surely any solicitor practising in this jurisdiction needs to be able demonstrably to communicate clearly in written English and indicate a sound, accurate and concise command of material legal concept.
To reduce standards and consequently lower the admission bar is doing neither the public nor potential candidates any favours. The solicitors exam was always intentionally tough. This ensured not only that able candidates entered the profession, but also that standards were kept high in the public interest.
It is therefore to be hoped that the SRA will row back from what appears to be a well-meaning but misguided and harmful step.
I was pleased to read that Land Registry has ‘an open approach to data’. It might like to remember whose data – yours and mine – this is. I do not remember anyone asking me whether I agreed with what had hitherto been my confidential information being on the Open Register for all to see.
Not only does Land Registry profit from the use of such data, it has the temerity to charge me if I want to look at my own records. When I had the deeds to my previous (unregistered) house I could look at them any time for free, and I always knew where they were because I had not shredded them and then discovered I had not kept a legible copy.
I cannot help thinking the purpose and duties of the Registry have been forgotten about in the drive to commercialise it and fatten it up for privatisation. That property fraud is rife is no surprise whatsoever.
Consultant, King’s Lynn