Discussions between the City and Ministry of Justice about how top firms can make a greater contribution to the publicly funded legal sector are set to continue after initial meetings this week, the Gazette has learned.
Lord chancellor Michael Gove and officials from the ministry met the City of London Law Society (CLLS) and representatives from some of the largest London firms twice this week.
The meetings centred on Gove’s controversial plans for City firms to plug the justice funding gap, including through pro bono work, a tax or a levy. But a decision on how City firms could contribute more to the provision of access to justice remained a ‘work in progress’, Alasdair Douglas (pictured), chair of the CLLS said.
He told the Gazette that there was no timeline for when a final decision might be made, but said the City is ‘keen to capitalise on the momentum’ created by Gove’s Legatum speech in June. In that speech Gove suggested that more could be done by ‘the most successful in the legal profession to help protect justice for all’.
Douglas added: ‘Our recent discussions with the secretary of state are just the start of a dialogue which will have to bring in many others. It will take time and much hard work to develop the right pro bono or public funding strategy for the future, if there is to be a chance of achieving more access to justice than exists at present.’
One suggestion ahead of the meeting was for a levy on the biggest firms to replace the criminal court charge on defendants. But Douglas said the idea of an involuntary or voluntary tax or levy was only one of the ‘many ideas’ floated at the meeting.
He added: ‘The global demand for free legal advice - whether helping charities, failed states, victims or crime or political persecution - is almost insatiable.
‘There is a difficult balance to be struck between a large expansion of our pro bono contribution in the UK, the provision of pro bono in other jurisdictions where our members work, and the need to compete successfully in the international legal marketplace.
‘Domestic pro bono support will never be an adequate substitute for a publicly funded legal aid system.’