From the President: Week beginning 16, December 2013

Week beginning: 16 December

Special general meeting

In this week’s From the president, it is only appropriate that I reflect on the special general meeting (SGM) held on Tuesday 17 December and its outcome.

An SGM was called to consider a motion of no confidence in the Society’s handling of the proposed criminal legal aid cuts. Over 400 members attended the meeting from all parts of the country, with a majority of those present from the criminal legal aid community, but some also from across the breadth of our diverse profession.

The debate was conducted in a manner that did our profession much credit. In such an emotive area, all speakers were listened to with courtesy and respect and, although I had been named personally in the motion, I was proud to be part of a profession that could conduct itself in such a manner even with the stakes so high.

In the end, the vote was exceedingly close with 228 in favour of the motion and 213 against. Nine abstained. The vote outcome itself was important but as important, arguably, was for the Law Society to hear again the arguments made by those that sponsored the motion and consider how it should respond to its members.

We heard that members wanted us to campaign more publicly. We heard that members did not feel we had engaged with them sufficiently during the campaigning process. We heard that our outright opposition to cuts must be unequivocal and be the guiding force for our activity.

So, let me first reiterate something said by our CEO, Des Hudson, at the SGM:

‘The Law Society has never supported cuts and it never will.’

Meeting straight after the SGM, the Law Society Council subsequently confirmed its commitment to continue opposing cuts that will risk the livelihoods of criminal solicitors and which jeopardise the quality of our criminal justice system in England and Wales. We also committed to increase our engagement with members. This process will start on 6 January 2014 as senior office holders will be touring the country to meet criminal legal aid members to garner feedback so as to enable us to redouble our efforts and secure more concessions from the government.

While recognising all of the above, it is important to stress that concessions have already been secured.

Price-competitive tendering was defeated – the single biggest wish of our members. Client choice was preserved. Concessions we secured will give our members far longer than originally envisaged to adapt to change. The final number of contracts to be awarded will not be set by political ‘diktat’ but on the basis of independent, published evidence. We have worked with the relevant solicitor practitioner groups throughout to achieve all this; indeed, some of them helped us develop the proposals and quality standards.

We also persuaded the government to award general annual contracts to those firms who meet a quality standard and not the lowest price.

But for all these concessions, we understand that, for some of our members, it has not been enough. That is why we will redouble our efforts, reaffirm our commitment to cuts and continue the fight for those areas where there are more concessions to secure.

Thank you,

Nick Fluck signature

Nick Fluck
President of the Law Society of England and Wales