From the president: Week beginning 20 May 2013
Lord Chancellor meeting
On Monday 20 May, a further 25 practitioners went to the House of Commons to meet Chris Grayling to talk about the government’s proposals for price-competitive tendering (PCT). While it is clear that Grayling is wedded to a form of PCT, there does seem to be a slight shift in attitude towards some elements of it.
Chris Grayling seemed a little keener than usual to accept many of our arguments about the difficulties for rural areas, in particular Wales, the South West and the Isle of Wight. He emphasised to those present that the procurement areas are up for consultation – so this is something that we will be following up.
He continued to pledge that he has “no interest in massive industrial providers” dominating provision. We made, and we will continue to make, the point that although this might not be his intention, the exit of small and medium-sized firms from the market is likely to be a consequence of the government’s plans.
Obviously none of this goes far enough, but there was a small change in emphasis, which could be positive. We are now going to turn our focus to submitting evidence that reinforces the points about client choice, quality, provision, cost and survival made to the Lord Chancellor during our meetings. The Law Society’s chief executive, Desmond Hudson, reinforced these points at a PCT demonstration and rally in central London on Wednesday.
Meeting with chair of the Public Accounts Select Committee
I also met with Margaret Hodge MP in her capacity as chair of the Public Accounts Committee, having requested the meeting to highlight the value-for-money implications of the Ministry of Justice’s criminal legal aid proposals. Our assessment (supported by the initial economic analysis we will be submitting to government) of the proposed procurement system is that it isn’t economically viable.
The only possible way to make it work is by seriously jeopardising quality. This is something the Lord Chancellor has said he doesn’t want to see happen – and that the attorney general has recognised would be a failure.
Margaret Hodge pledged to keep the consultation under review and call witnesses if the Ministry of Justice failed to show it had learned lessons from previous procurements. She also promised to write to the National Audit Office asking them to asses the economic viability of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals.
International Bar Association conference in Zurich
I represented the Law Society at the International Bar Association mid-year conference. I spoke at different panel sessions about our regulatory settlement, emphasising that the profession is still robustly regulated and independent, how we need to address the funding of courts and the judiciary in the face of economic pressures and how law societies and bar associations could provide practical help to their members.
The conference also offered plenty of opportunities for bi-lateral meetings with other bar associations. While I was out there I met with presidents and CEOs of Canadian, Korean and Queensland bar associations.
London Legal Walk
Vice-president Nick Fluck welcomed Lord Judge to the Law Society to meet the volunteer stewards lining the route for the London Legal Walk. Nick led the Law Society team of walkers, including deputy vice-president Andrew Caplen, for the 10km route. I am told a number of people ran the route in impressively short times. The event attracted the largest number of people to date and after the walk Lord Judge and the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, visited the Law Society to announce that the event had raised in excess of £575,000.00 for legal charities.
Well done to everyone involved!
I launched the report of the Colombia Caravana at Chancery Lane. The report is based on a visit to Colombia by a delegation of 42 lawyers and judges from across the world to monitor and report on the human rights situation for legal professionals in Colombia.
The report found that Colombian lawyers still live in constant fear of assassination, and of verbal and physical threats from guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and members of the armed forces.
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President of the Law Society of England and Wales