President reflects on tenure on last full day
Today (10 October) marks the last full day for the Law Society’s President Lubna Shuja. She has used her term to defend the profession from damaging rhetoric used by the government, raised awareness of professional ethics and brought into focus the continued importance of diversity and inclusion.
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said: “One year ago I took office as the 178th, first Asian, first Muslim and seventh woman President of the Law Society in its almost 200-year history.
“It has been an absolute honour to serve our members and I am proud of what has been achieved during my tenure.
“It has been a busy year, with a great deal of hard work lobbying the government on changes to its proposed legislation, agreeing momentous international deals, defending against attacks on our profession and continuing to fight for better pay for civil and criminal legal aid practitioners.”
On the government’s Civil Legal Aid Review, Lubna Shuja said: “The government launched its long overdue review into the sustainability of civil legal aid contracts in January.
“We have continued to raise concerns about the low rates of pay for civil legal aid practitioners. Over the past decade, the number of legal aid firms has nearly halved and so many vulnerable members of the public are no longer able to access legal aid locally due to vast legal aid deserts around the country.
“We have asked the government for an emergency £11.3 million investment for early legal advice, so millions of people struggling with debt, housing costs and the cost-of-living crisis can get legal advice when they need it.”
On criminal legal aid, Lubna Shuja said: “We took the significant step of issuing judicial review proceedings against the government in the High Court. This was because the government failed to satisfactorily address the serious concerns we had repeatedly raised about the collapse of the criminal legal aid sector following years of chronic underfunding.
“It is part of our fight to do everything in our power to persuade the government to follow the recommendations of its own independent expert and raise criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by 15%, to ensure access to justice for all.
“Our research* laid bare the woeful state of our courts, with criminal defence solicitors telling us of asbestos, sewage, mould, broken heating and leaking toilets in the courts they were visiting.
“We urged the government to immediately invest in buildings, staff and judges so court time is no longer wasted by delayed repairs or lack of personnel.
“The government pledged to continue to not cap judicial sitting days and invested £220 million for court modernisation and repair work over the next two years. These measures are a small step in the right direction to tackle the Crown Court backlogs.
“Justice is also in jeopardy due to the demise of duty solicitors, after our data projected an alarming 37% fall in a decade.”
On the legal aid means test, Lubna Shuja said: “The Ministry of Justice widened eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid, meaning that millions of extra people can receive free advice when they are facing life-changing legal problems.”
On the Economic Crime Bill, Lubna Shuja said: “We managed to get the government to clarify and minimise the scope of the new regulatory objective** on economic crime, to ensure it is targeted only at the areas of genuine risk for our sector and would not create any unnecessary new burdens for solicitors.”
On our international deals, Lubna Shuja said: “Following my visit to India earlier this year and my discussions with the Bar Council of India and the Law Secretary of India, a historic decision was made by the Bar Council of India to open up their legal services market. This meant that for the first time English and Welsh solicitors can register to practise in India on a permanent basis.
“This decision will create huge opportunities for solicitors and Indian Advocates in both countries, as well as for both our economies.
“There was another success, this time in Luxembourg. After productive conversations between the Law Society and local representatives in Luxembourg, English and Welsh solicitors can now register to practise in the country. This will not only benefit our members but also the wider economy.
“In addition, we also oversaw the Swiss-UK Mutual Recognition agreement, which confirmed and extended indefinitely the current provisions for UK lawyers operating in Switzerland.”
On the work we have done to support members, Lubna Shuja said: “As well as working on influencing government policy, defending our members and promoting our jurisdiction abroad, I have kept our members at the forefront of my priorities during my year.
“I have met with our members in over 15 towns and cities across England and Wales, in 15 countries around the world and online at my President’s Virtual Surgeries. My focus on professional ethics has led to the Professional Ethics Web Hub being launched on the Law Society website.
“We produced our world leading new climate change guidance for solicitors. I have spoken many times in the media about the value of the legal profession and I have started a project on changing how we talk about the rule of law and justice.
“I have kept diversity at the forefront of all my conversations and had the privilege of welcoming our first ever Lady Chief Justice at her swearing-in ceremony."
Lubna Shuja concluded: “It has been a whirlwind year and I have been proud to serve as President. I am excited to see what the next chapter may hold for me.
“As we look to the future, I will be keeping a close eye on the government’s rhetoric against hard-working immigration solicitors and of course, on the judgment from the Supreme Court on the Rwanda policy. I know that the Law Society will continue to fight for solicitors, uphold the rule of law and do what it can to ensure there is access to justice for everyone.
“I wish the incoming President, Nick Emmerson, all the very best when he takes office.”
Notes to editors
** The new regulatory objective focuses on promoting and preventing the detection of economic crime. The changes will affirm the duties of regulators and the regulated communities to uphold the economic crime regime.
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