From the President
Law Society Council commits to ongoing lobbying on legal aid proposals
The Law Society Council yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to direct engagement with the Ministry of Justice on proposed changes to legal aid in order to secure the best possible deal for all of its members and to ensure continued access to justice.
In a Council resolution, the Society reaffirmed its opposition to the cuts.
The Council also insisted that the government reconsider proposals for single fees irrespective of plea, and amend the single national fixed fee for police station work without escape mechanism. Further, the resolution endorsed the use of all appropriate resources to oppose the planned changes to civil legal aid, in particular the plans to restrict access to judicial review and the proposal to introduce a potentially illegal and unworkable residency test.
At the meeting, the Council expressed its regret at the proposal for a no confidence motion at the upcoming special general meeting (SGM), but pledged to engage with local law societies and practitioner groups, as well as facilitating the widest possible participation of practitioners, as it continues to lobby the government on these issues.
Special general meeting
This week’s ‘From the president’ will take a slightly different form as I would like to take the opportunity to focus on the upcoming SGM.
As you will have seen in my recent correspondence, the Law Society has called the SGM at10:30 on 17 December 2013 at 113 Chancery Lane to consider a motion of no confidence in the Society’s handling of the proposed criminal legal aid cuts.
The Law Society remains unequivocally opposed to the government’s cuts. They pose a significant risk to the sustainability of our criminal justice system and the Society is all too aware of the devastating effect they would have on many of us. This is a very difficult time for our profession.
Over recent months, we have worked to leverage the strength derived from our representation of the whole profession to oppose the government’s proposals on your behalf. We know from previous fights with government that attempting to protect our legal system by shouting from the sidelines would not have worked. Adopting a policy of non-engagement would have resulted in the Society merely watching as cuts were imposed upon us and choice and quality were obliterated around us.
We, of course, were not prepared to allow that to happen.
Unlike many organisations that represent professional interests, the government currently consults the Society and seeks our advice, and we have used that position to present clear evidence and directly influence the Ministry of Justice against the proposals introduced in April. This approach has already won concessions.
As many of you will be aware, earlier this year the Law Society obtained the wholesale abandonment of price-competitive tendering, which would have seen 1,200 legal firms go out of business. By running an evidence-based campaign, we secured a high-quality threshold, which enshrined professional standards as well as protecting the size, shape and number of duty solicitor contracts that are awarded on the basis of an independent published review.
Yet our fight is far from over and more needs to be – and is being – done. As part of these ongoing efforts, the Law Society jointly commissioned Otterburn with the Ministry of Justice. Our aim is to use the evidence from this research to maximise the number of duty contracts in operation and to ensure that consortia are able to bid. We will be disseminating these findings in due course.
We are determined to do more to reach out to as many members as possible and deepen our engagement going forward, but if we are to overcome unwelcome changes to the criminal justice system, we need to present our strongest hand. To do this, I would ask our members to defeat the vote of no confidence on 17 December so that we may return to our work of furthering the interests of the whole profession in whatever way possible.
Finally, to help plan for the meeting, ensure the safety of all members in our building and so that arrangements run smoothly, it is important that you let us know if you are planning to attend the meeting. Please email us at SGMattendance@lawsociety.org.uk by 17:00 today, Thursday 12 December. Please also let us know if you have any additional requirements.
President of the Law Society of England and Wales