Council Member Report
Law Society Council meeting summary: 22 March 2017
Council met on 22 March for its second meeting of the calendar year. As usual, a wide range of activity was reported on by the Board Chairs and the Chief Executive. In addition to ongoing discussions on governance, Council also had the opportunity to discuss and vote on two Council member motions.
After a brief report in February 2017 from the governance review group chaired by the President, Council had the chance in March to have a fuller discussion of the role of Council, the Main Board and the Executive, emphasising among other points the key role of Council as the voice of the profession. There is still more work to do, but we are hopeful of bringing more definite proposals to Council in May. We remain keen to hear the views of the wider profession, and the e-mail address: email@example.com is still open for your thoughts.
Council member motions
The first motion, proposed by the Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and seconded by the Deputy Vice President (DVP), invited Council to agree to create a seat on Council for the recently established Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Lawyers' Division. Council passed the motion by a very large majority, subject of course to the future of the seat being considered as part of the wider governance review in due course if required. The second motion, which was proposed by the Chair of the Human Rights Committee and also seconded by the DVP and overwhelmingly passed by Council, registered Council's concern at the risks to the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Turkey, and invited the Turkish authorities to respect due process and international standards in relation to any disciplinary proceedings against judges and lawyers.
Promoting the profession - market and regulatory change
Council noted our response to the Legal Services' Board's draft business plan, which had stressed the view that the LSB's main role is oversight of the front-line regulators, rather than a focus on competition at the expense of other regulatory objectives. You can view the response here: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/consultation-responses/legal-services-board-draft-business-plan-law-society-response/
Council also noted that work continues to develop the Law Society's strategy in response to the Competition and Markets Authority report on the legal services market, particularly its focus on consumer information and greater transparency on price and quality.
A number of issues in civil justice came to Council's attention, among them the Law Society's representations in relation to fixed recoverable costs (Jackson LJ's review, to which you can read our response here: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/policy-campaigns/articles/fixed-recoverable-costs-call-for-evidence-response/) and specifically in regard to the Department of Health consultation on clinical negligence. The Department had modified its pre-consultation proposals somewhat in the light of Law Society arguments, but we remain concerned at the impact on access to justice unless the scheme excludes complex cases and unusual circumstances. As clinical negligence cases are complex and lengthy by nature, we would want to ensure that correct exemptions are put in place to recognise this, and would be concerned about limits on access to specialist advice. We believe that fixed costs should be applied in a proportionate and appropriate way, and that any regime should not restrict the economic viability of solicitors undertaking these cases to the highest professional standards.
Representing and supporting the profession
Council was updated on our continuing engagement with government and others on Brexit. This included an ongoing programme of meetings with key stakeholders including select committees, and hosting a meeting of the Lord Chancellor's Brexit taskforce at the Law Society. It was noted, from the Director of Relationship Management's report, that Brexit remained a key issue of concern to the profession at large.
Council noted that a practice note had been published on 23 February 2017 on legal professional privilege (LPP), in the main as a response to increasing challenges to LPP from a variety of sources. It may be found here: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/practice-notes/legal-professional-privilege/ and it provides a detailed tool for the profession in understanding and applying the rules relating to LPP.
Council noted that the Membership Board had received a presentation on the activity of Law Works, which collaborates with law schools and law students to support and facilitate pro bono work, and is one of a number of organisations to which the Law Society has made grants for some years.
The Membership Board had also approved planned enhancement to the Law Society website to make it easier for members of the profession to contact Council members from their own geography or area of practice.
In advance of holding its May 2017 meeting in Cardiff, Council noted the passage of the Wales Act on 31 January 2017, with increased powers for law-making in Wales. In the context of this, the Law Society had met with the head of the Welsh Government Justice Policy team, with whom we are working to monitor the effect of the Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service change programme on access to justice in Wales.