• Sundeep Bhatia

A MEMBERSHIP PROFILE I DRAFTED FOR THE ETHNIC MINORITIES DIVISION OF THE LAW SOCIETY

I qualified as a solicitor in 1992. Following my qualification I did repossession work for Palmers solicitors in Basildon. In 1994 I moved to work for the firm of Gupta and Partners in Harrow & Wealdstone. Whilst there I became involved in criminal defence Legal Aid work and I gained my qualifications as both a 24-hour police station Duty Solicitor and a Court Duty solicitor. I became head of the criminal department prior to setting up my own criminal defence firm, Brent Law Practice , in May 1999.

The firm was successful and over the space of seven and a half years it represented defendants in several notable murder cases and was involved in representing a defendant who ,along with several others ,was accused of being involved in one of the most complex fraud cases ever.

In 2004 I obtained my Higher Rights of Audience in criminal courts.

In 2005 I gained the qualification as an accredited mediator after taking a course at the Centre of Effective Dispute Resolution in London. At the end of 2006 I gave up my Brent Law Practice Legal Aid franchise and my staff transferred over to another firm.

I wanted to devote more of my time to my passion which is Employment Law. I therefore established Beaumonde Law Practice which is based in Pinner, Middlesex.

I still do criminal defence work for Blavo and Co solicitors and regularly appear at the Crown Court.

The Law Society

In 2005 I became actively involved in the campaign against Price Competitive Tendering. This led to my involvement with The Society of Asian Lawyers, the Middlesex Law Society and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association. At one time I was a committee member of all three.

In 2006 I became vice-chair of the Society of Asian Lawyers. I was its chairman between 2008 to 2010. I then stayed on as a committee member and, in March 2013, I was appointed its secretary .I am also the official liaison between The Society of Asian Lawyers and The Law Society.

In March 2010 I took up one of the then vacant seats for Minority Lawyers on the Law Society Council.

That is a position which I still occupy. I have, in my Council capacity, also been appointed as a member of the Law Society’s Equality and Diversity committee.

In December 2010 I was appointed to the Law Society Employment Law Committee for a term which has just been renewed for a another three years.

In September 2011 I was elected to the Regulatory Affairs Board of the Law Society.

Campaigning

I have recently been campaigning against the Quality Assured Scheme for Advocates which I believe threatens the existence of many BME firms who specialise in criminal defence. This is because I believe there will be too few cases to allow solicitor advocates from smaller firms, to qualify within the required time limit of a year.

Law Society figures show that black and Asian minority ethnic (BAME) solicitors are disproportionately under represented amongst firms of five partners or less.

Smaller firms will, as the result of QASA, lose an essential source of income because their in- house solicitor advocates will be unable to obtain accreditation under QASA and will be forced to instruct external counsel. This is in circumstances where the litigators fee has, over recent years, been significantly reduced. That will threaten the financial viability of many firms.

I have campaigned against QASA via social media, an article in the Solicitors Journal and an appearance on Radio 4’s Law in Action.

The threat to smaller firms is heightened by the requirement to adapt to digital working without any kind of grant or subsidy. This will be an added expense for small criminal defence firms already at breaking point.

Then there is the question of the government’s renewed plan to introduce Price Competitive Tendering. The Government plans to introduce a scheme whereby firms will be bidding against each other to offer Legal Services at the lowest possible price. This is likely to benefit larger firms with greater resources. Once again smaller BAME firms will suffer.

It is my belief that our profession is under threat more than at any time in its history.

Many students will not be able to afford to qualify as the result of the decision of the Solicitors Regulation Authority to scrap the minimum wage for trainee solicitors. This will mean that many people from poorer backgrounds will not be able to service the substantial debts which they incur at university and Law School. They will not qualify as solicitors and the profession will as a result not reflect society at large.

The only hope for reversing such a situation is whatever is announced as the result of the current education and training review.

The legal aid civil reforms, which are being introduced in April 2013, are likely to put a great deal of financial pressure on BAME firms who are, according to Law Society statistics, more likely to be involved in legal aid work.

The personal injury reforms announced by the Government are also likely to result in a number of firms ceasing to trade.

The losers amongst all of this are not just solicitors but more importantly the communities that we all serve.

Members of those communities will be less likely to be able to avail themselves of the services of a solicitor in order to enforce their legal rights. There will be many more unrepresented litigants-in-person at our courts .

Members of those communities will also be less able to take cases to Employment Law Tribunals due to reforms which limit the amount of damages they might be entitled to, whilst also lengthening the amount of time they have to be in work before they can bring actions for unfair dismissal.

Traditional law firms will also be under increased pressure from mature alternative business structures during the next few years .

Law firms are already starting to go out of business. The number of SRA interventions is increasing and, unfortunately, I see that as a trend which will increase over the coming years.

We will also, over the next couple of years, see how the Solicitors Regulation Authority police the profession in an age of outcomes-focused regulation.

These are difficult times. We must ensure that we are united as a profession in standing up to these threats to all our liberties, rights, communities and our profession.

I remain committed to fighting on all sides to ensure that there continues to be diversity within the legal profession and, more importantly, that there are BAME lawyers who can rise to become leaders in our profession as well as senior judges.

I look forward to an age when the appointment of Sir Rabinder Singh QC, as a High Court Judge, is not a newsworthy event because many others have followed in his footsteps.

Views are my own and do not represent the Law  Society’s position in the matter. 

#Law #LawSociety #LawSocietyCouncil #SocietyofAsianLawyers #Elections #BME #Solicitors

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