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Parliamentary report: conference special
Our conference special parliamentary report details the developments on law and justice over the party conference season, and our work to engage with the different political parties.
Over the past few weeks, we've held events as part of the political party conference season. Of course due to coronavirus, this year's conferences were held remotely, presenting a different challenge for event organisers and organisations such as ours seeking to influence policy, and a different experience for attendees at the conferences and fringe events.
Round-up from the conferences
The prime minister (PM) Boris Johnson gave his keynote speech at Conservative Party Conference in which he pledged to help the country “Build Back Better”, arguing that the country should use the disruption of the pandemic as an opportunity to build the economy of the future.
The PM’s speech also touched on the importance of tackling crime, and at one point he claimed that the government is “stopping the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless and rightly call the lefty human rights lawyers and the do-gooders” – a characterisation that we do not recognise and have challenged publicly. This followed on from a similar statement from the home secretary, Priti Patel MP, in her own conference speech.
In other developments from the Conservative Party Conference, the chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak MP warned that the UK was only half way through tackling the pandemic, and said there would be difficult choices ahead to ensure that the government balances the books while continuing to support jobs and the economy.
The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland QC MP, also spoke at the conference, describing the justice system as one of the biggest service industries in the country and a great contributor to the UK economy.
At the Labour Conference, leader of the opposition Keir Starmer used his keynote to criticise what he argued were repeated government failings over coronavirus, and said it was time for the party to “get serious about winning.” He exhorted the PM to get a Brexit deal, and said the remain/leave debate was fundamentally “over.”
In his first speech to the party conference as leader, Liberal Democrat Ed Davey MP spoke about the Lib Dem vision for the country, and how they seek to build a fairer, greener future post-coronavirus.
The Law Society at the Conservative Party conference
We attended and ran a full programme of activity at the 2020 virtual Conservative Party Conference between Saturday 3 October and Tuesday 6 October. We hosted four virtual events at the conference:
- a fringe event on Reset, Resilience, Recovery: unleashing legal services’ potential, Monday 5 October. Chaired by our deputy vice president I. Stephanie Boyce, and featuring Alex Chalk MP, justice minister, and Sir Bob Neill MP, chair of the Justice Select Committee as speakers, the event covered key issues to address to support the legal services sector and help it drive the economic recovery from coronavirus
- a private roundtable for our members on the UK’s Top 50 Law Firms leading recovery and future national economic performance, Monday 5 October. The event was chaired by our president Simon Davis and featured Bim Afolami MP as the keynote speaker discussing with participants how law firms and the government can work together to drive economic recovery and growth
- a fringe event on unlocking the power of gender equality in law and justice, Monday 5 October. Chaired by our president Simon Davis, the event featured a panel made up of Helen Grant MP, Dame Eleanor Laing MP, deputy speaker of the House of Commons, Innovate Finance’s Iana Vidal and Vincent Keaveny of DLA Piper to discuss how gender equality in the profession has been impacted by the lockdown
- a fringe event on judicial review and the rule of law, Tuesday 6 October. The event was chaired by Ellie Cumbo, our head of public law, and our vice president David Greene joined the panel alongside John Howell MP, member of the Justice Select Committee, Laura Farris MP, chair of the APPG on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and Richard Godden, corporate partner at Linklaters to discuss the case for reforming the judicial review process.
Our events were all well attended, with around 150 people in total tuning in to watch our virtual events, including conference delegates, our members and other attendees.
The Law Society at the Labour Party conference
Our president Simon Davis and vice president David Greene both spoke at high profile conference events, on topics ranging from the future of the justice system post-pandemic, to financial services and Brexit.
Our flagship event, organised alongside the Bar Council and Society for Labour Lawyers and titled “The future of the justice system – Covid-19 and beyond”, saw Simon Davis speak alongside the shadow lord chancellor and law officers, as well as chair of the Bar Amanda Pinto QC.
He used the panel to make the case for early advice as a way to make the justice system more efficient and to reduce human misery, and called for proper and full investment in the professions, referencing the delay to CLAR, and for the justice system to be centred around the needs of people.
David Greene was a speaker at the Society for Labour City Lawyers’ annual event on Brexit and financial services, although this year saw them add coronavirus to the title. He was joined by chair of the Future Relationship Committee Hilary Benn MP, Angela Eagle MP, and barrister Anneli Howard of Monckton Chambers.
David Greene spoke about legal services’ contribution to the economy and balance of trade, and said that England and Wales will always be an open jurisdiction. He detailed the bilateral work we've been doing with European bars and law societies.
Both events saw mention of the Internal Market Bill, which was passing through the Commons at the time, and the government’s rhetoric on ‘activist lawyers.’ David Greene and Simon Davis each covered our briefings on the bill, and encouraged attendees to involve themselves in the letter writing campaign which was underway at that point (which saw almost 5,000 people write to their MP, quoting ours and the Bar Council's briefing on the bill and urging the removal of clause 41–45).
The Law Society at the Liberal Democrats conference
On 28 September, our deputy vice president I. Stephanie Boyce spoke at an online fringe hosted by Rights-Liberties-Justice (the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association) titled "Challenges for the legal profession, access to justice and the rule of law since Covid-19."
During the event, I. Stephanie Boyce highlighted our recent report on the impact of restrictions on vulnerable people and access to justice. She highlighted recent challenges to the rule of law and outlined our position on the Internal Market Bill.
Wera Hobhouse MP, the new Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson, raised concerns on challenges to the rule of law, and said that she is concerned that we are slipping into an authoritarian regime. She highlighted the importance of the rule of law, and that the main conference had just passed a motion in response to the recent debate around the Internal Market Bill.
Chris Minnoch, the chief executive of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, outlined the difficulties facing legal aid providers and practitioners both prior to and during the COVID-19 crisis. James Sandbach, director of policy and external affairs at LawWorks, spoke about unmet legal need and the need for pro bono.