Party conference update: Conservative party conference

A party conference update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates across all three major parties’ annual meetings.

One thing you need to do

This week we welcomed Nick Emmerson as the 179th President of the Law Society.

At a time of increasing global focus in the legal sector, Nick’s wealth of experience in international agreement making will be vital in delivering for our members.

Read more here. 

What you need to know

1. Conservative party conference

We attended the governing party’s conference from Sunday 1 October to Tuesday 3 October.

The centrepiece of our programme was our fringe event held in collaboration with the Society of Conservative Lawyers and the Bar Council. 

It featured:

  • lord chancellor, Alex Chalk
  • chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill
  • immediate past president, Lubna Shuja

The lord chancellor talked about the importance of lawyers being able to do their job without fear or favour. He also talked about the importance of legal advice, particularly early legal support and advice. He said that it is best for all involved if disputes can be resolved before reaching court.

On immigration policy, he said that he believes the Illegal Migration Act to be compliant with our international obligations, which he said is important because international conventions are the “wiring of the international economy.”

Lubna spoke out against the attacks on lawyers from ministers, including the prime minister himself, and said that all lawyers should be able to represent their client without undue pressure from the state.

She also spoke about the need for sustainable legal aid, as people cannot enforce their rights when they cannot access a lawyer. She spoke about legal aid deserts and how, in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis, the problem is starker than ever.

On the Monday evening, president Lubna Shuja was joined by around 50 members for a drinks reception just outside the conference centre.

This allowed a meeting of both Conservative members, who had travelled across the country, and local members from varied-sized firms to meet and discuss the justice system.

Speakers included:

  • Lubna Shuja
  • Attorney General, Victoria Prentis
  • Fiona Ledden, deputy vice president of the Manchester Law Society

We also attended various other fringe events, to get a sense of the direction of Conservative policy in the next year, as well as holding meetings with several key Conservative stakeholders including the solicitor general and Sir Bob Neill.

2. Labour party conference

We attended the Labour conference this week, hosting a busy programme of stakeholder events and meetings from Sunday 8 October to Tuesday 9 October with Labour shadow ministers and stakeholders.

Our main fringe saw our then vice president – now president – Nick Emmerson speak at a packed panel event discussing Labour’s vision for justice alongside the shadow lord chancellor, Shabana Mahmood and shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry.

Mahmood called her appointment a dream role, and spoke of the importance of the rule of law and respect for the legal profession. She highlighted the difficult financial picture Labour may inherit in government and said she was looking for solutions that could be quickly implemented.

Thornberry argued that the courts backlog and dealing with waits on rape and sexual offence cases is likely to be the main priority for Labour.

Speaking for the Law Society, Emmerson outlined the need for investment in criminal and civil legal aid while calling on the sector, politicians and individuals to engage with our recent paper putting forward proposals to reform civil justice.

We also organised a roundtable bringing together members and the shadow economic secretary to the treasury, Tulip Siddiq.

This looked at:

  • the important role law firms play in the UK’s economy
  • how our leading role as a global legal centre can be maintained
  • what Labour’s vision for professional services looks like

Siddiq spoke about how important legal services are to the UK and outlined Labour’s commitment to fiscal stability.

Finally, Nick Emmerson appeared at two roundtables with shadow justice ministers.

The first saw a discussion with Ruth Cadbury, the shadow minister for prisons, on her priorities for the months ahead.

The second was a discussion with sector stakeholders on civil justice.

Emmerson used this roundtable to discuss:

  • our work on our 21st century justice project
  • the serious crisis facing civil legal aid
  • how the government should use the interim review of civil legal aid to fix the system

Throughout the conference, Labour highlighted its focus on growing the economy.

Shadow ministers and MPs all noted that this is key to achieving their wider ambitions should Labour form a government following the general election, which will take place next year.

Conference also saw the shadow justice team set out their priorities in a series of speeches.

The shadow lord chancellor criticised the long delays faced by rape victims in the courts and announced plans for new legal advocates to support victims, alongside 20,000 new prison places.

The home secretary, Yvette Cooper, also focused on victims in her speech and said a Labour Government would set up specialist units to investigate rape cases.

During his leader’s speech, Sir Keir Starmer outlined Labour’s focus on economic growth and reiterated Labour’s approach to fiscal stability. He committed the party to setting up a new national wealth fund and pledged to build 1.5 million houses.

3. Liberal Democrat party conference

On 25 and 26 September, then deputy vice president Richard Atkinson and our public affairs team headed to Bournemouth for Liberal Democrat Party conference.

Our focus was on meeting MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) and hearing their priorities for the upcoming manifesto and general election.

As part of our presence, we also attended a series of fringes, hearing a range of discussion around the Party’s policies and future direction.

We held a fringe event on the Monday evening, focused on ‘Law and liberalism: finding Britain’s place in the world’.

Richard was joined by the Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Lord Marks KC and former MEP Irina Von Wiese.

The discussion delved into the rule of law and the impact of our domestic justice system on Britain’s standing on the world stage.

To a packed room of justice stakeholders and party members, Richard highlighted:

  • the economic contribution of the sector
  • the importance of the Liberal Democrats committing to respecting the rule of law and honouring our international obligations

We had interesting conversations with MPs and PPCs on the need for the justice sector to prioritise asks around civil and criminal legal aid.

The UK’s relationship with the EU remains a key focus for Liberal Democrat members, and this context allowed us to share our asks around international market access and seeking provisions for legal services in the upcoming review of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

We were also able to hear commitments from parliamentarians on remaining in the ECHR, with MPs, peers and PPCs agreeing with our concerns around rumours of leaving the convention.

Overall, we were able to gather useful insights into manifesto development and develop relationships with PPCs who are likely to become MPs at the next election.

Coming up:

The government will deliver its Autumn Statement on 22 November.

We have made a formal submission to the treasury with our recommendations for supporting the justice system and legal sector, and we will continue to push these with MPs and ministers.

The parliamentary session will soon come to a close ahead of the King’s Speech on Tuesday 7 November.

Before that date, we will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills:

Victims and Prisoners Bill will next go to report stage in the Commons, on a date still to be confirmed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will be back in the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments on 18 October.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will have its report stage in the Commons, date to be confirmed.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will be back in the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments on 17 October.

If you made it this far...

As we welcomed Nick to his new role, we also said goodbye to our outgoing president Lubna Shuja.

Regardless of the challenges of the past year, her tireless work has ensured the profession continues to put its best foot forward.

We are immensely grateful for her work on behalf of the legal sector.