Weekly Update from the Law Society London & SE Relationship Management Team – 30th July 2020

30th July 2020

The London & South East Relationship Management team are keen to ensure that key updates and information of relevance are communicated to you, and your local law society, periodically.

Video witnessed wills to be made legal during coronavirus pandemic

The government has announced temporary changes to the law on wills, enabling them to be witnessed via video conferencing apps, as well as in person.

  • Government plans law change to allow wills to be witnessed virtually in England and Wales
  • Reforms will be backdated to 31 January 2020 and will remain in place as long as necessary
  • New laws to reassure public that wills witnessed via video link are legally recognised

Changes will be made via new legislation in September, which amends the current law to include video-witnessing.

Law Society president Simon Davis said: “Although the government’s decision to allow remote witnessing will simplify will making for some during the pandemic and guidance has been issued to minimise fraud and abuse, the government needs to ensure the legislation is properly drafted to minimise unintended consequences and ensure validity.”

Read our press release here and the government’s press release here.

FREE: Q&A Event with HMCTS on the impact of Covid-19, Wednesday 5 August 17:00-18:30

The Law Society will be hosting a Q&A event with HMCTS focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on Wednesday 5 August, from 17:00-18:30. The aim is to provide an overview of the work that has been undertaken within the court service and the work that still needs to be addressed as part of the court recovery plan.

This will be an interactive webinar and we are asking members to submit any questions they have about the service in advance which will be answered by CEO of HMCTS, Susan Acland-Hood.
We invite you to submit questions in advance, but there will also be opportunity to ask questions during the event. Topics we expect to be covered include:

  • Member safety especially in terms of attending court/tribunal buildings
  • Experience of remote hearings, including any concerns regarding a client’s understanding, particularly those considered vulnerable
  • Operation of Cloud Video Platform
  • Backlogs and listing of cases
  • Impact on processing times (for example probate and divorce)
  • Use of existing court estate
  • Nightingale courts
  • Extended operating hours

Please email your questions to hmctscourtreform@lawsociety.org.uk by 12:00 on Monday 3 August.

The webinar is free to attend, however you must register online here. Bookings will close 48 hours before the start date. We have also uploaded this information onto our court reform page.

Final decision made on the format of the SQE

The SRA Board has made a final decision on the format of the SQE which the SRA have published: https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/policy/sqe/sqe-final-design/

The SRA are now due to apply to the LSB for the final rule change that will allow the SQE to commence in September 2021. The Law Society will be considering this application and any response to the LSB on this as well as continuing to work with the SRA to ensure that concerns raised around EDI and transitional arrangements are addressed.

The Law Society is also developing guidance on key areas to enable the profession to engage with the SQE.

BAME research – call for solicitors to take part in virtual roundtables

We are now conducting virtual roundtables with recruiters, HR professionals and partners through August as part of our research, forming the third stage of this project. Its aim is to better understand the challenges organisations face in attracting, retaining and progressing BAME talent.

The confirmed dates are:

  • 06 August – 17:00
  • 11 August – 14:00
  • 12 August – 17:00
  • 13 August – 14:00
  • 18 August – 17:00
  • 19 August – 14:00

Read more

Legally Disabled – take our survey

In partnership with Legally Disabled, we’ve recently launched a survey to gather experiences of disabled people in the profession both during lockdown and post-lockdown.

We will use these insights to inform best practice for the future and to evidence aspects of remote working that could benefit disabled people working within the legal sector long term. The survey is open to all solicitors and trainees who are currently employed or in training and/or applying for employment or training.

The deadline for responses is Sunday 16 August, and the survey should only take 20-25 minutes to complete.

Take the survey

Listing ‘chaos’

We’ve written to the CEO of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) following reports from our members about serious concerns around listings in a number of magistrates’ courts last week, including Highbury and Islington, Sevenoaks, Croydon, and several courts in Essex. This appears to arise from an attempt to clear some of the backlog of cases.

Some of the key issues include:

  • over-listing, creating overcrowding in waiting areas and consequently health concerns for all court users
  • defence lawyers are being provided with insufficient notice of either listings or cancellations/adjournments
  • insistence by court staff that clients who are shielding due to health concerns must attend court in person
  • defence lawyers being told they must appear in person, only to arrive at court to be told their case is adjourned and they did not need to attend

HMCTS has responded to our concerns to explain that the listings confusion was unintentional, and that these lists were not planned as court lists. The large numbers of cases listed were those in the backlog lists, which are held pending listing as the opportunity arises. The issues that occurred last week were caused by a failure to adjourn the cases in good time and avoid unnecessary attendances. HMCTS has also tweeted an apology.

Consultation summary

Tax Treatment of Asset Holding Companies in Alternative Funding Structures– closing date 19 August 2020
Link to consultation
Policy Lead: James.Reynolds@lawsociety.org.uk

This consultation seeks views on whether changes to the tax treatment of companies used by funds to hold assets could make the UK a more attractive location for these companies. It also considers the VAT treatment of fund management fees and other aspects of the UK’s funds regime.

SRA Consultation: SRA Business Plan and Budget 2020-2021 – closing date 26 August 2020
Link to consultation
Policy Lead: Marzena.Lipman@lawsociety.org.uk

This consultation takes place, in part, alongside the Law Society Group consultation on the level of the practising certificate fees for 2020/21, which runs until 10 July 2020. The SRA has therefore encouraged responses on the budget component of the business plan prior to 10 July.

As part of this consultation, the SRA is also be asking for views its proposed principles for managing its Compensation Fund, which is a key part of consumer protection and supports public confidence in solicitor firms and the reputation of the profession. Every year the SRA Board decides on the level of the profession’s contributions to the fund, based on information about trends, past and prospective claims and interventions.

Notification of uncertain tax treatment by large businesses – closing date 27 August 2020
Link to Consultation
Policy Lead: James.Reynolds@lawsociety.org.uk

From April 2021 large businesses will be required to notify HMRC when they take a tax position which HMRC is likely to challenge. This policy will draw on international accounting standards which many large businesses already follow. This consultation seeks views on the method and detail of the notification and particular areas of uncertain tax treatment.

Call for evidence: raising standards in the market for tax abuse – closing date 28 August 2020
Link to consultation
Policy Lead: James.Reynolds@lawsociety.org.uk

The government has published a call for evidence on raising standards in the market for tax advice. HMRC is seeking evidence about providers of tax advice, current standards upheld by tax advisers, and the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to support those standards, in order to give taxpayers more assurance that the advice they are receiving is reliable.

Consultation on Corporate Tax Rules that apply to Hybrid Mismatch Arrangements– closing date 29 August 2020
Link to consultation
Policy Lead: James.Reynolds@lawsociety.org.uk

The government is consulting on arrangements that exploit the differences in tax treatments between the two jurisdictions. This consultation seeks to ensure that the hybrid mismatch rules work proportionately and as intended.

If you have any questions in relation to any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us at London&SouthEastTeam@lawsociety.org.uk