The Law Society is attending all three party conferences, and we have a full programme of activity at each including fringe events and meetings with senior stakeholders.
On Monday 17 September at Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton, the Law Society hosted a fringe event in association with Rights-Liberties-Justice (the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association) on the subject of Brexit and its impact on the legal services profession. Deputy vice president David Greene introduced the event, providing an overview of the impact of Brexit, and outlining the Law Society's response to the White Paper, the technical notice on judicial co-operation, and the consequences of a 'no deal' scenario.
The Law Society also had a strong presence at Labour Party Conference from 23 to 26 September. Highlights from the Law Society's activity include:
- A private dinner hosted by the Law Society for key stakeholders in the legal sector on the Sunday. The dinner was attended by 5 MPs including the opposition front bench, and a frank and supportive discussion took place on issues in the justice sector, including around regulation, the criminal justice system, access to justice, AI and technology, and the impact of Brexit on the legal services sector.
- A fringe event co-hosted by the Law Society, the Society of Labour Lawyers and the Bar Council on the future of justice. The Law Society's work on access to justice was heavily featured in the event, which focused on legal aid, court reform, personal injury reform, regulation and the criminal justice system.
- A fringe event on court reform, rights and the rule of law co-hosted by the Law Society, the Society of Labour Lawyers, JUSTICE and the Bar Council. The event focused on concerns around the government's court modernisation programme.
The Law Society are present at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, and will be hosting further events and meetings. Read a full summary of the Society's conference activity programme, and details on our policy recommendations.
This week in Parliament
Last week at the party conferences
Liberal Democrat Conference
Saturday 15 September - Tuesday 18 September
Liberal Democrat Conference 2018 - Summary
On Monday 17 September, the Law Society attended Liberal Democrat conference. The Law Society hosted a joint event with Rights-Liberties-Justice (Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association) on Brexit at which the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Brexit also spoke. The Society also met with the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Digital Economy, Lord Clement-Jones.
1. Rights-Liberties-Justice/Law Society fringe event - Brexit and its impact on justice and the legal profession
Law Society deputy vice President David Greene spoke at a panel event on Brexit and its impact on justice and the legal profession on Monday 17 September. The other panellists were James Sandbach, Co-Chair of Rights-Liberties-Justice (Lib Dem Lawyers Association); Baroness Ludford, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Brexit; Rhodri Thompson QC, Matrix Chambers; and Ruvi Ziegler, Associate Professor at the University of Reading.
David Greene outlined the main effects of Brexit on the legal profession, including our response to the recent White Paper, the technical notice on judicial co-operation and the effects of 'no deal'.
Baroness Ludford said that the government appeared to believe that it could unilaterally implement bilateral agreements on judicial co-operation, despite the EU Justice Sub-Committee (of which Baroness Ludford is a part) making it clear this was not possible. She noted that the recent technical notice on judicial co-operation finally accepted that unilateral implementation would not lead to reciprocation, as EU states would see the UK as a third country. She also said that there is no precedent for a country outside of the Schengen Agreement having as close a partnership on judicial co-operation as the UK is seeking.
Rhodri Thompson identified three areas of concern: legal practice rights; judicial co-operation; and enforceability. On practice rights, he expressed concern that nations such as France could take the opportunity to attract legal business away from the UK. On judicial co-operation, he noted that in the event of 'no deal' there will be problems with reciprocity with EU member states, as well as problems in continuity of existing agreements with third countries such as Mexico. On enforceability, he stated that it was not the CJEU's jurisdiction over the UK that characterised EU law, but the enforceability of rights across the courts of the UK and the EU27.
2. Rights-Liberties-Justice fringe event on legal aid
Rights-Liberties-Justice and JUSTICE also hosted an event on the LASPO review. The panellist were Andrew Haslam-Jones, Co-Chair of Rights-Liberties-Justice; Lord Marks, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Justice; James Sandbach, Director of Policy and External Affairs at LawWorks; Alistair Carmichael MP; Antony Hook, Criminal Defence Barrister; and Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE.
Lord Marks accepted that the coalition government's cuts to the legal aid had gone too far, and the Liberal Democrats are now calling for a review of LASPO. He said that the intention of LASPO was to achieve a £400 million cut, but it instead led to a £950 million cut. Lord Marks argued that the first thing the review should achieve is to claw back the excess £550 million. He noted that LASPO had led to the emergence of legal aid deserts and the legislation has led to an increase in litigants-in-person (LiPs). He stated that some credit should go to the Labour Party for being strong on the issue, and in Parliament the Liberal Democrats are working with Labour, as well as other allies such as the Justice Select Committee. He argued for the reinstatement of legal aid for social welfare, housing, immigration and domestic violence case and hailed the Law Society's judicial review on the LGFS decision as 'significant'.
James Sandbach said civil legal aid bore the brunt of the LASPO cuts because civil problems were not thought of as being serious legal problems. The number of firms providing civil legal aid work has halved, and there are whole areas where people have no access to legal advice at all. Pro bono work is only able to deal with a small fraction of those people who have fallen out of the legal aid system.
Antony Hook made the point that calling for the reinstatement of legal aid was not about asking for lawyers to be paid more – legal aid is important for access to justice. Legal aid is also in the interest of victims of crime, as the rise in LiPs has meant more victims facing cross-examination by the defendant representing themselves, or another unqualified representative, who may not understand the ethics involved. He noted that there has been a 40% cut in legal aid in criminal work since 1997 and referenced problems in recruitment and retention of criminal lawyers.
Alistair Carmichael noted that, as a former solicitor, he was still providing legal advice to constituents in his surgeries simply because there is no-one else able to do so. He stated that this issue would never be seen as a top priority for any government, as it would be characterised as putting money into rich lawyers who defend bad people. He challenged the room to come up with creative solutions, though he himself admitted he wasn't sure what they would be.
Andrea Coomber noted that advice deserts were an acute problem. Research published last year however showed that every pound spent on legal aid saved £8.80 down the line. She made three suggestions for improving the system:
- Reduce the prison population to decrease the proportion of the MoJ's budget that is spent on prisons.
- Recognise that the justice system is the 'drain hole' of the rest of the system – i.e. it is bad decisions by government departments (such as DWP decisions on benefits) that end up in the courts. She argued that the government should put more emphasis on getting these decisions right the first time.
- Make the case for why the justice system matters.
3. Speech by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable MP
Below are the key points from Vince Cable's keynote speech to the Conference on Tuesday 18 September.
- Vince's speech repeated an earlier announcement that he and Deputy Leader Jo Swinson MP would be setting up a new Technology and Artificial Intelligence Commission, to be chaired by Dr Sue Black (a social entrepreneur with expertise in digital skills and computer science). The Commission will explore how to maximise the potential of new technological developments, including paying attention to the potential for biases in algorithmic decision-making.
- Vince stated that the Lib Dems would promote the development of advanced new technologies within an industrial strategy, while also seeking to regulate these technologies to ensure that the threats they present are minimised.
- Vince outlined the new tax policy that was passed by the conference. The system would see capital gains taxed at the same rate as income tax; pensioner tax relief rebalanced away from the highest earners; abolition of inheritance tax and its replacement with new levies on gifts worth over £3,000; investment in a sovereign wealth fund; scrapping of business rates and a reform of company taxation that was fit for the digital age; and a penny on income tax ringfenced for the NHS and mental health care as a stepping stone towards a new hypothecated tax.
- Vince reiterated the Liberal Democrats' commitment to fighting for a People's Vote on the final Brexit deal, and claimed that Brexit was not a certainty.
- He indicated that, if a People's Vote was secured and won, the Liberal Democrats would seek to lead positive reform of the EU, including to freedom of movement.
Sunday 23 September - Wednesday 26 September
Labour Party Conference - Summary
- The Law Society's work on access to justice featured heavily in 'The Future of Justice' fringe event jointly hosted by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Society of Labour Lawyers on the Sunday of Conference.
- Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon MP supported our call for a review of the sustainability of the criminal legal aid system and used many of our access to justice campaigns' arguments in his speech.
- Shadow Solicitor General Nick Thomas-Symonds MP argued that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill would have a huge impact on the right to confidential advice and lawyer-client privilege and noted that the Law Society have raised this issue. He also wrote an article echoing our concerns on the Bill.
- The Law Society also hosted a private dinner for key stakeholders in the legal sector on the Sunday. The dinner was attended by 5 MPs including the Opposition front bench, and a frank and supportive discussion took place on issues in the justice sector, including around regulation, the criminal justice system, access to justice, AI and technology, and the impact of Brexit on the legal services sector.
- Law Society vice president Simon Davis warned about the impact of declining economic activity on the legal and financial services sector when the UK leaves the EU at a fringe event on Brexit and financial services on Monday morning.
- Law Society vice president Simon Davis highlighted underfunding in the criminal justice system and shared research by the Law Society on the looming crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors at a reception for young Labour lawyers.
- Concerns on the court modernisation programme were shared by leading stakeholders in the justice system at a fringe event organised by JUSTICE and the Society of Labour Lawyers and co-hosted by the Law Society.
1. 'The Future of Justice' Fringe event (Hosted by the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Law Society and the Bar Council), Sunday 23 September 2018
The Law Society's work on access to justice was heavily featured in a fringe event focusing on legal aid, court reform, personal injury reform, regulation and the criminal justice system.
- Speaking at the event, Law Society vice president Simon Davis highlighted underfunding in the justice system. He spoke about the Law Society's early advice campaign, and the impact of increasing numbers of litigants-in-person. He noted sympathetic noises from government but called for real action to tackle the issues present in the justice system. He highlighted the ageing profession of criminal duty solicitors and the crisis in criminal legal aid funding. He called for a review of the sustainability of the criminal legal aid system and pointed to the recent successful judicial review by the Law Society on proposed changes to the Litigators Graduated Fees Scheme.
Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon MP supported the Law Society's call for a long-term review of the sustainability of the criminal legal aid system and congratulated the Society on successfully defeating the government in the High Court. He criticised the government's cuts to legal aid made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) and supported the Law Society's campaign on early legal advice from a lawyer. He called for law centres to become 'engines of empowerment' so that people can fight injustice, and pledged support for Law Centres in a new Labour government. He highlighted the ageing criminal duty solicitor profession, using the Law Society's example of the youngest criminal duty solicitor in the Isle of Wight being aged in her 50s. He raised concerns about the HMCTS modernisation programme and called for a halt to court closures. In response to questions at the end of the event, he called for a national programme of public legal education.
Shadow Solicitor General Nick Thomas-Symonds MP spoke about the rule of law and said that 'rights mean very little if people cannot enforce them.' He argued that access to justice was at the heart of Labour's values, and referred to Clement Attlee's government who placed legal aid right at the heart of the welfare state. He spoke about the need for early legal advice referencing the Law Society's campaign. He raised concerns about an inequality of arms emer¬¬ging in personal injury cases as a result of the Civil Liability Bill and proposed reforms to the small claims limit. He called for greater access to the professions and highlighted the lack of diversity within them. He argued that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill would have a huge impact on the right to confidential advice and lawyer-client privilege, and noted that the Law Society have raised this issue.
Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti noted the number of lawyers on the shadow frontbench and that those who are not lawyers on the frontbench have a history of supporting justice related issues. She argued that the justice system has been degraded in recent years and raised concerns with access to justice, access to the profession, and the undermining of the judiciary. She also highlighted the struggle for those affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster to access justice.
Vice-Chair of the Bar Council Richard Atkins QC raised concerns around further budgetary cuts for the Ministry of Justice in the future and said that justice-related issues are sometimes ignored as they are not considered 'sexy.' He argued that underfunding of the justice system had deepened issues relating to social mobility. He raised concerns regarding the increase in litigants-in-person and called for early legal advice to be extended. He argued that the future of the justice system was too precious to become party political.
Around 70 people attended the event. The event was chaired by Kate O'Rourke, Chair of the Society of Labour Lawyers, and those present included Shadow Lords Justice Spokesperson Lord Beecham, former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, and Lord Willy Bach, the author of the Bach Review.
2. 'The Law Is Broken' Young Labour Lawyers reception (Hosted by Young Labour Lawyers and the Society of Labour Lawyers), Monday 24 September 2018
Law Society vice president Simon Davis spoke at the Young Labour Lawyers annual conference reception, alongside Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon MP, Shadow Attorney General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, and Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC.
The theme for the event was 'the law is broken.' In his remarks, Law Society vice president Simon Davis highlighted the underfunding in the criminal justice system, and noted the Law Society's recent successful legal challenge to the government on proposed changes to the Litigator's Graduated Fees Scheme and the Criminal Bar's recent action in relation to proposed changes to the Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme. He highlighted the Law Society's recent data which shows a looming crisis in the numbers of criminal duty solicitors. He encouraged the young lawyers to continue to pursue a career in law.
3. 'Court reform, rights and the rule of law' event (Hosted by JUSTICE, the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Law Society and the Bar Council), Tuesday 25 September 2018
Concerns around the government's court modernisation programme were raised at a fringe event co-hosted by the Law Society.
Panellists included Shadow Attorney General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Law Society vice president Simon Davis, Bar Council Chair Andrew Walker QC, and Legal Director of JUSTICE Jodie Blackstock.
The event was chaired by Catherine Atkinson, Secretary of the Society of Labour Lawyers and parliamentary candidate for Erewash, and was attended by around 55 people.
During the event:
Law Society vice president Simon Davis opened by calling for the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice to help resolve legal issues before they reach the courts and relieve the increasing pressure from litigants-in-person. He said it was welcome that the government was spending money to modernise the courts system, but echoed the concerns of the Public Accounts Committee, who recently stated that they have 'little confidence' that the government will be able to make the changes identified and that it is not clear what the government and HMCTS wishes to achieve through the modernisation programme. He raised concerns with court closures while new technologies are being piloted or designed and welcomed the Supreme Court's recent decision on Employment Tribunal Fees. He ended by highlighting concerns around the erosion of public confidence in the courts and the ability to obtain justice.
Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti said that reforms should be about making things better, but it is not clear whether these technology reforms will improve the service, access to the profession, or the rule of law. She spoke about the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill and raised concerns around the delegation of judicial functions to court staff who may not have legal qualifications or experience of practicing law. She said that the government cannot do justice on the cheap, and that our court buildings are crumbling. She argued that most people need the justice system in times of crisis, and that it can be inappropriate to receive advice online.
Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC noted that there are 52 strands of the modernisation programme and argued that they each have merits and weaknesses and should not be 'lumped in together.' He argued that the government have 'put the cart before the horse' in identifying savings required and then deciding how they can achieve them instead of looking at what can improve access to justice. He then raised concerns about video hearings.
JUSTICE's Jodie Blackstock said that her organisation has long called for court reform but observed that the current proposals are not all positive. She raised concerns about digital exclusion. She said that JUSTICE have been engaging with the government to try and ensure that digital platforms are user friendly and designed with users in mind, and called for an online space to provide advice, guidance and support to those accessing online services. She shared concerns about our 'over-formalised' courts, using inaccessible language and processes. She said there will always be a need for physical courts and raised concerns that there has been little research on the effect of the use of video hearings on judicial outcomes.
- In response to a question from Steve Cavalier of Thompsons Solicitors regarding the Civil Liability Bill, Baroness Chakrabarti said that the 'Tories are in the pocket of the insurers' and that the Bill will have a significant impact on access to justice. Law Society vice president Simon Davis said that small claims might be small in value but they can be incredibly complicated, and said that the Law Society have been fighting the Bill and proposals to reform the small claims limit which he argued would see an explosion in the number of litigants-in-person.
4. Brexit and financial services' event (Hosted by the City Group of the Society of Labour Lawyers), Monday 24 September 2018
The Law Society vice president Simon Davis was invited to speak from the floor at a fringe event on Brexit and financial services hosted by the City Group of the Society of Labour Lawyers.
Davis warned about the impact of declining economic activity on the legal and financial services sector when the UK leaves the EU, and the impact on the legal profession.
Panellists for the event included Chair of the Brexit Select Committee Hilary Benn MP; member of the Treasury Select Committee Alison McGovern MP; Professor of European Law at the University of Liverpool, Professor Michael Dougan; and Max Savoie, Senior Associate at Sidley Austin LLP.
The event was chaired by Omar Salem, Chair of the Society of Labour Lawyers City Group, and attended by around 50 people.
During the event:
- Hilary Benn MP raised concerns with the progress of the negotiations and the potential impact on financial and professional services. He spoke about the concerns of the Brexit Select Committee on goods, UK borders such as at Dover, and the political difficulties of finding a resolution to the Northern Ireland border issue. He said that the Prime Minister has 'boxed' herself and our country 'into a corner.' He argued that the reaction of the EU at Salzburg should have come as no surprise. In response to a question on the 'People's Vote', he was hesitant to support another referendum, raising concerns about respecting the result of the referendum, the potential outcome of any new vote, and on what question a new referendum would be held. He argued that it would be difficult to hold a referendum without knowing what kind of future relationship with the EU was on offer. However, he said that another referendum or a general election may be the only option if parliament is deadlocked on the withdrawal agreement.
- Alison McGovern MP noted that the financial services sector is large, important and interconnected with the EU. She called for the UK to remain in the customs union and the single market and raised concerns with the prospect of securing favourable terms with the EU, commenting that countries 'always seek to erect barriers to protect domestic trade.
- Professor Michael Dougan argued that financial services is one of the luckier sectors in that there is an existing equivalency regime, which is not the case for all sectors. He argued that there will be a need to extend the transition period to ensure a smooth exit, and raised concerns around what mechanisms are available to extend transition, acknowledging that there is political resistance to extending Article 50.
- Max Savoie opened the event by giving an overview of how the financial sector currently operates in the EU and what issues Brexit presents, including on passporting and regulatory equivalence.
5. Keynote speeches
5.1 Jeremy Corbyn MP, Wednesday 26 September 2018
The leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn MP gave the keynote speech at the Labour Party Conference.
Ending the conference in Liverpool, Corbyn promised a 'green jobs revolution', said Labour would 'rebalance power in the workplace' with more workers on boards, and pledged to expand free childcare provision.
He also pledged to make huge social improvements in office, including increased funding for mental health services and social care, a levy on second home ownership and increased homebuilding.
Corbyn made the following key points in his speech:
Brexit: Corbyn said Labour's priority was to 'get the best Brexit deal for jobs and living standards to underpin our plans to upgrade the economy and invest in every community and region.' He added that Labour, 'as it stands', will vote against the Chequers plan 'or whatever is left of it and oppose leaving the EU with 'no deal'.'
- Corbyn said it would be inconceivable and a national disaster for the UK to crash out of Europe with 'no deal'. He added that if Parliament voted down the government's Brexit deal, or if they fail to reach one, Labour would press for a general election. Corbyn then said: 'Failing that, all options are on the table.'
- He also went on to say that Labour would support a sensible deal that delivered a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, and which protected jobs, people's rights at work and environmental and consumer standards.
Corporate governance: As announced in John McDonnell's speech, Corbyn said Labour were proposing to give the workforce of all large UK businesses the right to elect a third of the seats on their boards.
5.2 Sir Keir Starmer MP, Tuesday 25 September 2018
Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Sir Keir Starmer QC MP gave a speech at Labour Party Conference, setting out Labour's position on Brexit and a second referendum.
He received a huge applause for his statement on the potential for a second referendum when he said 'Nobody is ruling out having remain as an option!'. It is being reported that this was not on the version of the speech released by Labour.
He also said that Labour would oppose a 'no deal' Brexit or a 'Blind Brexit' (leaving the EU without a clear understanding of the future relationship).
Starmer made the following key points in his speech:
Labour victories: Starmer said Labour had not ducked the challenge of Brexit and had prevented it from being driven by 'narrow and divisive Tory ideology.' He said Labour had fought the government 'tooth and nail' and were right to argue for:
- Jobs and the economy to come first
- EU citizens not to be bargaining chips
- A transitional period to prevent a cliff-edge
- A customs union with the EU and a strong single market deal
- Parliament to have a meaningful vote on the final deal.
Labour's six tests: Starmer said that the 'six tests' for Brexit were taken from promises and commitments made by the government about what it would achieve for the country. He said if Theresa May brings back a deal that fails the tests, Labour will vote against it – adding that 'that looks increasingly likely.'
Meaningful vote: Starmer said Labour did not accept that the choice is between 'whatever deal Theresa May cobbles together' or no deal, adding that if Parliament votes down the Prime Minister's deal or she can't reach a deal 'that's not the end of the debate.'
Second referendum: He went on to say that Labour will step up and shape what happens next, and that all options must be kept on the table. Starmer said Labour's priority was a general election, and if this is not possible then 'other options must be kept open' (including campaigning for a public vote 'if we need to break the impasse').
5.3 John McDonnell MP, Monday 24 September 2018
The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP delivered a keynote speech to Labour Party Conference.
McDonnell made the following key points in his speech:
Corporate governance: McDonnell referenced Jeremy Corbyn's announcement that a Labour government would ensure that one third of the seats on company boards would be allocated to workers.
Tax: McDonnell used his speech to praise the majority of businesses that pay their taxes, but reiterated that many still do not. To counter this, he said he would not be afraid to 'name and shame' those who did not, while also outlining his intention to convene a shareholder group to demand that companies sign up to the Fair Tax Mark standards.
Employee ownership: Additionally, he announced the much-trailed Inclusive Ownership Fund scheme which will provide stakes for employees in large companies and ensure dividend payments go to the wider workforce. He also announced that a broader social fund would be created to support schools, hospitals and a social security system that the economy benefits from.
Nationalisation: He returned to the theme of nationalisation of large transport and utility networks, particularly the water industry. One aspect not mentioned in the speech but picked up in the accompanying notes is that senior managers' jobs would be re-advertised, meaning some top executives could be let go by an incoming Labour government.
- As part of this, McDonnell announced that he and Rebecca Long-Bailey are launching a large-scale consultation on democracy in public services.
- McDonnell also said he would set up a 'public and community ownership unit' in the Treasury, to bring in external expertise to Labour's public ownership programme.
Treasury reform: McDonnell announced that the Treasury will undergo a further series of reforms, including rewriting its rule books, ending its bias against investment in regions and nations and ensuring that spending fits with priorities on climate change and productivity.
Dealing with future crises: Responding to the concerns espoused recently by Gordon Brown, McDonnell said he was also worried that the global economy was not configured to deal with future shocks. He announced that an 'international social forum' will be convened in the spring, chaired by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, to bring together leading economists, politicians and civil society representatives.
Brexit: On the UK's withdrawal from the EU, McDonnell's comments were limited to criticising the Conservative government for its approach and saying that it should get out of the way to allow Labour to secure the way forward. He claimed Labour would protect the economy, jobs and people's standard of living. He went some way to walking back on his earlier comments ruling out of a referendum with an option to remain in the EU saying all options for democratic engagement were still on the table.
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