The Law Society enters 2014 primed to protect and promote members’ interests on many fronts.
Last year was a turbulent one for the profession. The Law Society had tough choices to make in our legal aid discussions with the Ministry of Justice, but we gained some valuable concessions on criminal legal aid. We have a lot more to do in 2014.
We will be continuing to fight for access to justice and to protect, promote and represent all solicitors.
On criminal legal aid, we have reasserted our opposition to cuts and will continue to. We commissioned research jointly with practitioner groups to look at MoJ’s forecasts. The Oxford Economics report, published today, shows that the MoJ could make two-thirds of the£120m savings being demanded from the work carried out by criminal legal aid solicitors without implementing the cuts, which fundamentally threaten the sustainability of the criminal justice system (police station attendance, magistrates’ court representation, and Crown court litigation account for £120m of the £220m cuts proposed).
The report also questions assumptions MoJ has made. We are using this report to lobby for a better outcome for members. And we continue to push for concessions in other areas such as informal consortia, which are crucial for the survival of small, rural and BME firms and the provision of criminal legal aid in sparsely populated rural areas.
Beyond criminal legal aid, we are pressing ahead with shaping and influencing legislation and regulation, which affects every section of the profession.
Following a Council resolution in December, we are allocating extra resources to oppose planned changes to civil legal aid, including providing evidence to the Justice Select Committee inquiry into LASPO, briefing the media on the evidence of the impact of cuts and further lobbying MPs.
Uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is increasingly important to our members. From skills and talent to the rule of law, we are lobbying MEP candidates and the wider political community on the importance of the legal sector in the European debate, and highlighting the Society’s role in European affairs. On wider international-related campaigns, we are pushing for legal services to be included in free trade agreements being negotiated this year, including with the US, Japan and India. Our international division is increasingly providing advice to small and medium-sized firms on breaking into international markets.
Last year, we worked on a raft of measures to protect and promote our members. The High Court granted leave to intervene in a case concerning capping of insurance cover by PII insurers. We continue to challenge the lenders and Decision First on their development of the lender exchange to ensure the best outcome for our members, and are pressing ahead with the development of the property portal to keep solicitors in the forefront of the conveyancing process.
We are working hard to raise awareness among the public about the potential dangers of using unregulated will-writers. We are examining proposals set out in the draft Finance Bill in December to change the status of ‘salaried’ LLPs, working closely with HMRC to clarify the scope of the proposals.
We will be working with members to ensure changes to the training requirements for solicitors will meet the needs of the profession and maintain high standards.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. The president and other office-holders are keen to meet members face to face to discuss issues that are affecting them. There are other opportunities for members to shape and drive the work of the Society. Council elections for 15 geographical seats will take place over the next few months and details for nominations will be published shortly. There is at least one committee of interest to every member – vacancies on our committees are regularly advertised on our website.
Desmond Hudson is chief executive of the Law Society