South West Monthly Report August 2015
- Court closures - let us know what you think
- MoJ consults on further hikes to court and tribunal fees
- Criminal Legal Aid action – Update
- Global competitiveness of solicitor brand
- Videos help to promote our profession
- Market Insights
- Separate Business rule - an update
- President’s Priorities, and Office Holders
- Launch of new Law Wales website
- Relaxing the reporting requirements for Accountants
- Hardship fund proposed for small firms seeking to close
- Open consultations
- Latest Practice Notes
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is consulting on the closure of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, and the integration or merger of 31 more (closes on 8 October). The MoJ’s argument for the proposals is that:
- The courts and tribunals identified are under-used.
- It would be more efficient to move towards an estate with dedicated hearing centres, larger buildings and use courts more flexibly.
- Greater use of modern communication and business methods to increase efficiency (eg video links).
The Law Society will consult with the profession before submitting a formal response. In the meantime, we would like to hear your immediate thoughts on the proposals (email ).
The following courts and tribunals in the South West are included in the consultation:
- Barnstaple Crown Court
- Bath Magistrates’ and County Court and Family Court or North Avon (Yate)
- Magistrates’ Court
- Bournemouth Magistrates’ Court
- Cheltenham Rivershill House Tribunal
- Chippenham Magistrates’ Court, Civil Court and Family Court
- Dorchester Crown Court
- Fareham Magistrates’ Court
- Gloucester Magistrates’ Court
- North Avon (Yate) Magistrates’ Court or Bath Magistrates’ and County Court and
- Family Court
- Stroud Magistrates’ Court
- Torquay Magistrates’ Court
In addition, there are the following integrations:
- Aldershot and Farnham County Court to be integrated within Aldershot Magistrates’ Court
- Arcade Chambers (Aldershot Tribunal) to be integrated within Aldershot Magistrates’ Court
- Plymouth St Catherine’s House (Plymouth Tribunal) to be integrated within Plymouth Combined and Plymouth Magistrates’ Court
- Taunton Blackdown House (Taunton Tribunal) to be integrated within Taunton Deane Magistrates’ Court
- The Crescent Centre (Bristol Tribunal) to be integrated within Bristol Civil Justice Centre
- Weymouth and Dorchester Combined Court offices to be integrated within Weymouth Magistrates’ Court
- Yeovil County Court to be integrated within South Somerset and Mendip Magistrates’ Court (Yeovil)
MoJ consults on further hikes to court and tribunal feesThe MoJ is consulting on a new maximum fee of £20,000 for money claims, and higher court and tribunal fees. Fees for divorce, possession claims and general applications will also increase.
We believe the proposals are a further assault on access to justice and we want our members' views to help inform our response to the government: how will these proposals affect you, your firm, your clients and community? What impact have the March 2015 fee increases had? Send your comments and case studies to .
Criminal Legal Aid action - an update
As aconsequence of further cuts to criminal legal aid, early July saw an unprecedented move by the legal profession, as they officially launched a nationwide boycott of any new criminal legal aid work.
The extent of action has been varied across England and Wales. The Relationship Management team has been working closely with members to measure the impact and obtain their views and reactions to the work to rule action. Feeding this information back to the legal aid team is important in gathering as full a picture as possble.
The Law Society's stance on this issue is firm. Former President Andrew Caplen stated “The Society is not a trade union and it cannot call its members out on strike or encourage them to take collective action. It would be unlawful under the Competition Act for us to call for, organise or lead collective action.” Essentially; we would face huge fines from the Competition and Markets Authority.
As a result of the practitioner groups meeting with Michael Gove on 23 July,a new protocolhas been issued for solicitors taking part in a nationwide boycott of new legal aid work that will allow them to do more police station and magistrates’ court work. The protocol, issued by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association and Big Firms Group (BFG), came into effect on Friday, 24 July.
Global competitiveness of solicitor brand
The majority of solicitors attach a strong value to the brand of solicitor and feel that it is a central part of the Law Society’s role to promote both the brand and to reinforce the professional standards and values attached to it, according to feedback during the Law Society’s 2020 review.
The solicitor brand, and UK legal system, has a strong international reputation, and a global competiveness report emphasises the importance of the training contract in distinguishing UK solicitors from international competitors. The report goes on to highlight concerns that SRA proposals around changes to the entry route into the profession may have negative repercussions and damage the global competiveness of the solicitor brand.
In addition to this report our Relationship Management team Strategic Review provides comment on the market and other issues relevant to business owners.
Videos helping to promote the profession
The Law Society has produced a suite of expert focus videos to help promote solicitors' services. If you provide criminal law or business law advice, you can use the videos to highlight the benefits of a solicitor to your customers.
You can feature the videos on your website or post them on your own social media platforms.
View the criminal law video
View the business law video
President’s Priorities, and Law Society Office Holders
In July Jonathan Smithers became the 171st President of the Law Society and has since set out his priorities for his presidential year which, broadly speaking, are as follows:-
- the rule of law
- access to justice
- conveyancing and land law
The President has also launched his monthly video blog and in this month's edition discussed mass data retention legislation, proposals to change the way solicitors qualify, the UK-China law programme, court closures and criminal legal aid. For social media enthusiasts, you can also follow Jonathan on Twitter - @LawSocPresident.
The following Office Holder have also been elected into post:
Robert Bourns, Vice President
Joe Egan, Deputy Vice President
Launch of new 'Law Wales' website
A keenly awaited website has launchedthat will help practitioners and the public better understand how the law in Wales is gradually diverging from the rest of the UK. The Cyfraith Cymru/Law Walesproject has been spearheaded by Counsel General for Wales Theodore Huckle QC in association with legal publishers Westlaw UK. Under the devolution settlement, Welsh legislation is rapidly diverging from English law in areas such as planning and environmental law as well as in housing and health.
The aim of the site is to raise awareness of the growing body of Welsh law being passed by the National Assembly for Wales and made by Welsh ministers.
Separate Business Rule – an update
Last month’s report highlighted proposed changes to the Separate Business Rule - enabling solicitors to own or be connected to separate businesses providing non–reserved legal services. Since then the Legal Services Board has approved the changes with the consequence that the changes should form part of Version 15 of the Handbook when it goes live on 1 November.
Reporting Accountants' requirements relaxed
Existing rigid requirements on the submission of accountants' reports are set to be relaxed. Accountants will be able to use their professional judgement in future to assess if the reports they prepare for solicitors' practices comply with SRA account rules. Accountants will no longer need to qualify accounts for trivial breaches of the rules, but instead can focus on risks to client money. The changes should improve the value of accountants’ reports and reduce the burden on firms, according to the SRA.Open consultations
- Regulation of consumer credit - the SRA's regulatory arrangements
SRA authorised firms that mainly carry out consumer credit activities already require FCA regulation. The changes mean firms may now also require authorisation by the FCA if they undertake prohibited activities that are not considered central to their legal services practice. The SRA will produce specific guidance around consumer credit work, and will hold a webinar to give those affected the opportunity to hear current thinking and pose questions directly to the SRA.
Closing date: 7 August 2015
- Enhanced fees for divorce, possession claims and general applications in civil proceedings and consultation on further fees proposal
Closing date: 15 September 2015
- Proposal on the provision of court and tribunal estate in England and Wales
Closing date: 8 October 2015
Latest Practice Notes
Meeting the needs of vulnerable clients
This practice noteincludes detailed advice to assist you to:
- identify vulnerable clients
- identify their needs at an early stage and respond appropriately
- communicate with them more effectively
- address issues they may have relating to mental capacity
- work with third parties who can assist them and you to achieve the best possible legal outcomes
Information on letterheads, emails and websites
Thispractice noteincludes detailed advice on:
- the information which you need to supply to your client in order to allow them to make informed decisions about the services they require and how these will be delivered
- the requirement for publicity not to be misleading and details as to what is considered to be publicity
- specific information for companies, partnerships, LLPs and registered European and foreign lawyers
Outcomes-focused regulation: overview
This practice noteincludes detailed advice on:
- outcomes-focused regulation, providing an overview of what it is
- the issues practitioners may wish to consider in light of its implementation.
A full list of Law Society practice notes are available here.
Business & Human Rights – Bristol date tbc (Business and Human Rights programme).
Upcoming key conferences:
Small Firms Division Annual Conference (24 September 2014)
Commercial Litigation Conference (5 October)
National Property Law Conference (9 October)
Lexcel Conference (21 October)
Law Management Section Finance & Business Conference (11 November 2015)
Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference (18 November 2015)
For full details on the above and our full programme of events please visit the events page.
The Law Society, South West contact details
Regional Manager: Matthew Still
Telephone: 07969 046 708
Follow on Twitter: @ThelawsocietySW
Join us on Linkedin: The Law Society South West networking group
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