Budget response: No end to austerity in the justice system

Shrinking budgets for the justice system have put it in crisis and the British people increasingly are left high and dry when it comes to accessing vital legal advice, the Law Society of England and Wales said today.

“Austerity is not ending in the justice sector,” Law Society president Simon Davis warned, “and while £23 million has been made available for the ‘wider justice system’, including a £5m trial of specialist courts for domestic abuse cases, £15m to improve the government’s offer to victims and £3 million for the Royal Commission on criminal justice process, it is a drop in the ocean and does not come close to the hundreds of millions cut from legal aid.

“It is positive to see the recognition of the trauma experienced by those affected by domestic abuse and we welcome the commitment in the Budget to early intervention and rehabilitation measures for perpetrators.

“However, this needs to go hand in hand with proper investment in legal aid services. The 2012 legal aid cuts have left the legal aid system in crisis.

“We look forward to contributing to the Royal Commission on criminal justice.”

Coronavirus and zero hours contracts

“The coronavirus has thrown up a series of questions about people’s rights in relation to their employment. Organisations and employees will need to work together to deal with the disruption caused. If people have problems they should seek legal advice. A local solicitor can be found through our Find a Solicitor service,” said Simon Davis. “But it is also important people be reassured that if they catch coronavirus they will be entitled to sick pay.

“If they are quarantined because they are suspected to have coronavirus the chancellor has said they will be entitled to sick pay even if they are showing no symptoms. If your organisation tells you to work from home you are entitled to full pay. If your employer tells you not to come to work, and you cannot work from home, you are entitled to full pay.

“However, it is worth noting that if you are worried about coronavirus and decide not to come into work, against the wishes of your organisation, then you are not entitled to pay and you risk being disciplined. If you stay at home to look after a sick child you are not automatically entitled to sick pay, though organisations should think about how best to support staff who care for others.”

Economic crime levy

Simon Davis said: “Solicitors play an important role in the battle against money laundering and the Law Society – as the named supervisory body – shares the government’s objectives in having a robust regime in place. Our sector already devotes substantial resources to fighting financial crime. Now plans for a levy, to be paid by firms subject to the Money Laundering Regulations, have been announced I would urge ministers to ensure that any plans are evidence based, and do not inadvertently distract resources from the fight against economic crime.”

Cladding

“We wholly welcome the proposal to set up a new £1bn building safety fund. It is hoped that the existence of this fund will help the market address how the removal of all unsafe combustible cladding from high rise residential blocks will be funded.

“Providing funds for all unsafe materials rather than just the funding that was provided by the government last year for Grenfell style cladding should be helpful to those affected.”

Stamp duty land tax (SDLT)

The SDLT non-residents surcharge of 2% means that from April 2021, for the first time, the concept of residence will need to be considered by parties and advisers in the home buying process. “In implementing this new surcharge, the government should seek to avoid imposing any disproportionate complexity onto homebuyers and to address any potential negative impacts on housing supply or affordability that run contrary to its policy objectives.”

Broadband

Additional funding being spent on broadband, for both firms seeking to use technology and members of the public who are accessing legal proceedings electronically, is welcome, as highlighted in our report on technology, access to justice and the rule of law.

“As well as all the social benefits it will help rural law firms and other businesses stay competitive and may even drive enterprise which will benefit rural economies,” said Simon Davis.

IR35 Review of changes to the off-payroll working rules

“The extension of the off-payroll working rules to the private sector is one of several new measures that shift tax risks and compliance burdens onto taxpayers and advisers in a variety of ways. We urge the government to consider the cumulative cost of such a shift, both in economic terms and in terms of its implications for fairness and trust in the tax system.”

Charges for single use plastics

“On single use plastics, we support moves to improve sustainability. The legal profession is determined to ensure that sustainability is taken into account in their own businesses and risks are mitigated. Across the country, firms and practitioners are leading the way in establishing best practice but also by sharing their insights.”

The Law Society works with the Legal Sustainability Alliance and other similar groups to help drive environmentally-friendly approaches in law firms.

UK fintech sector

“We welcome the forthcoming review of the UK fintech sector to support growth and competitiveness in the sector. However, the lawtech sector should not be overlooked. Our research shows that the UK’s lawtech sector is one of the strongest in the world and expected to grow as law firms and in-house teams seek to increase efficiency, reduce costs or provide a broader scope of services.”

Cryptoassets

“It is positive that the government intends to consult on cryptoassets to protect consumers and support innovation. In this process it will no doubt t take into account the Lawtech Delivery Panel’s authoritative statement that recognises cryptoassets as property under English and Welsh law.”

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Ben Davies | 020 8049 3750