Law Society President’s Weekly Update for Local Law Societies – 11th May 2020

14th May 2020

Prime Minister’s statement

Our advice and guidance to members on coronavirus (Covid-19) has not changed following the prime minister’s statement on Sunday 10 May.

We will comment further when official guidance is published during the week commencing 11 May.

Public Law

Civil Justice
The Civil Justice Council has released a rapid consultation seeking views on the impact of COVID-19 measures on the civil justice system, and the Law Society intends to respond. This mirrors the equivalent consultation from the president of the Family Division which closed last month. The Civil Justice Council is particularly seeking feedback from court users who have taken part in remote hearings during the pandemic, and will use the findings of the consultation to inform any further guidance that is issued and identify areas where additional work may be needed. The Law Society will be gathering information from our members and will respond to the consultation.

Mental Health
This week we spoke with the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’) about data sharing concerns in relation to vulnerable people during the pandemic, especially those who may lack the capacity to consent to their data being shared. The ICO asked Law Society members to raise any concerns with them via their helpline to collect further data alongside providing advice.

Housing
We responded to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on housing issues during the pandemic, specifically for the private rented sector and the homeless/rough sleepers. Our response recommended the formulation of plans and strategies to reopen the courts safely, support for organisations with legal aid contracts for the Housing Possession Court Duty Scheme to replace the lost income resulting from the suspension of possession hearings and provision of legal aid funding for early legal advice in possession cases.

Private Client
Last week we had our regular meeting with HMCTS and other key stakeholders to review the status of the probate service, a summary of which will be available on the website shortly. HMCTS would like our members to note the new deadline regarding the transition to the new paper forms is 18 May 2020. During this meeting we discussed the impact of coronavirus, contingency plans and the online probate service.

Parliamentary

On Monday myself and our head of public law gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the impact on prison, probation and court systems. Other witnesses were:

  • John Bache JP, national chairman, Magistrates Association
  • Bill Waddington, chairman, Criminal Law Solicitors Association
  • Amanda Pinto QC, chair, The Bar Council
  • Caroline Goodwin, chair of the Criminal Bar Association
  • Elspeth Thomson, national committee member and co-chair of Legal Aid Committee, Resolution
  • Chris Philp, parliamentary under secretary of state, Ministry of Justice (courts)
  • Alex Chalk, parliamentary under secretary of state, Ministry of Justice (legal aid)
  • Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive, HM Courts and Tribunals Service

The Law Society also met with the attorney general, Suella Braverman, to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the profession, the upcoming Constitution Commission, the disclosure review and Brexit.

We have been in the media this week to promote the role and value of the profession in difficult times

The Daily Mail, Times (£), Guardian Telegraph, New Law Journal, Legal Futures and the Voice all reported on Law Society research that 71% of high-street firms believe they may have to close their doors in the next six months due to the impact of Covid-19.

 

I said: “The shock to the legal services sector has been sudden and severe. There are widespread concerns over liquidity as firms face a dramatic plunge in income with work falling away.”

The FT meanwhile expanded the same story including quotes from me during my select committee appearance.

The Times (£) then went into additional detail in a feature for its Thursday law pages.

The Gazette reported the government will give charities and law centres £5.4 million to survive the coronavirus pandemic and meet growing demand for social welfare advice. I said solicitors, who continue to do pro bono work through law centres, “stand ready, willing and able” to help, adding that he hopes similar investment will be made for legal aid firms “which have been operating for years been on the tightest of margins as a result of low fees and are now suffering a significant reduction in income”.
Gary Rycroft, chair of our digital assets working group, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme (starts from 11:05) and BBC Look East about claiming airlines not giving refunds to passengers who had booked travel.

In our non Covid news

Diversity and Inclusion roundtable events

Please find link below to future events
https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/practice-management/diversity-inclusion/articles/disability-in-the-legal-profession-roundtables-to-discuss-the-current-position/