• Sundeep Bhatia

LAW SOCIETY COUNCIL MINUTES : MAY 2019

I , Sundeep Bhatia, of Beaumonde Law Practice solicitors, in Harrow, Middlesex am a Member of the Law Society Council. This is the Parliament of the Law Society and meets every couple of months at its Chancery Lane headquarters.

My Constituency is Ethnic Minority solicitors and I have held me seat since 2010.

Please feel free to contact me at Sundeep.bhatia@beaumonde-law.co.uk if you want to discuss any of the matters raised at Council.

The Minutes of the Meeting are as follows.

A minute’s silence was held for Philip Hamer, former Council member and treasurer who has recently died. Tributes were paid to him and a book of condolence was opened for Council.

A new Council member, Brett Dixon in the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ seat was welcomed, and I. Stephanie Boyce was congratulated on her election as incoming Deputy Vice President.

Influencing for impact

Government’s attention continues to focus on the Brexit negotiations, and Council heard of the work the Law Society has been doing to scrutinise the statutory instruments relating to a ‘no deal’ Brexit and lobbying on the key issue of market access.

As a result of the focus on Brexit, wider policy development in Government and engagement with key stakeholders has slowed. In response, we have adjusted our policy and engagement programme and made significant progress with our campaigns on legal tech, access to justice and work. Our criminal justice campaign video has received more views than any previous campaign and we have been successful in influencing Government on their review of legal aid. Our policy commission on Artificial Intelligence is culminating in a high-profile event in June. In addition to helping prepare the profession for the impacts of the new SRA handbook, we are also developing a comprehensive reply to the Mayson review of the shape of legal regulation, on which Council had a wide-ranging and useful debate which will inform the Law Society’s contribution. Council was also updated on the Law Society’s activity across a wide range of issues in civil and criminal justice.

Release under investigation

Since the introduction of the Police & Crime Act 2017, release under investigation without any time limit, oversight or centralised records is becoming a major issue. People are being left in limbo, undermining faith in the system and making supporting clients difficult for our members.

There are wider social implications for victims of crime dealing with the delays in justice and for defendants who are vulnerable.

We are highlighting this problem and asking the MOJ to tackle it. This is now moving up the agenda thanks to our work in raising it with MPs and other stakeholders.

Disclosure of unused material

As revealed by high profile cases such as that of Liam Allen, failures in disclosure, exacerbated by the increase in the volume of material from social media and other technology, are becoming a serious issue.

There is an ongoing review by the Attorney General’s Office. We have been closely involved in the development of a disclosure improvement plan.

Other criminal justice issues on which Council was updated included the Law Society’s criminal justice campaign, designed to address the problems caused by lack of investment in the criminal justice system.

Civil Justice

Government is consulting on proposals for fixed recoverable costs following the Jackson Review, claiming they will be clearer more transparent and appropriate. This will cover cases up to £25k and many others up to £100k. Changes could be introduced next year. We know this issue is important to our members and are responding to the consultation. Council policy is to accept the change for low-value and straightforward cases, but current proposals go way beyond this. We have concerns on the implications for access to justice. There is a risk that a powerful party may decide not to settle, but put legal obstacles in the way, pricing the defendant out of justice.

International rule of law programme

We work to open up new markets for English and Welsh law, but you can’t have the business of law without rule of law, and so the Law Society has an International Rule of Law Programme. Council were updated on some aspects.

The programme includes writing intervention letters to highlight arbitrary arrests/detentions, harassment and threats against lawyers and human rights defenders. Our members provide support pro bono to enable us to do this.

We also undertake capacity building in key jurisdictions, often in partnership with others. A recent example includes a training project with 14 Kazakh judges for six months in the UK. 12 UK law firms and 14 barristers’ chambers were involved in hosting the delegates.

Promoting the profession

July will see the next surge of advertising activity on the Law Society’s Solicitor Brand campaign, covering rail stations and roadside billboards. The advertising features real solicitors and real clients to promote the profession.

Career companion

Council heard about a major review of the Law Society’s Diversity and Inclusion Charter. This is timely in light of the IBA’s recent report on bullying and harassment in the profession and our significant programme of work on Women in Leadership in the Law. We have launched reports on women’s roundtables and men’s roundtables and an international report will follow, creating a snapshot of working life.

The power of gender equality to transform the business of law: our international symposium in June will include the launch of a Women in Law pledge, which will be the foundation for the refreshed D&I charter. We will also publish our ‘how to’ guide to shift the dial in gender equality, other protected characteristics and social mobility. Tickets are available from the Law Society website.

The revised Diversity and Inclusion Charter is currently being piloted by 14 firms of varying sizes across the regions. It requires evidence gathering and action planning and will have a modular approach. It is planned to learn from the pilot and launch later this year.

Working effectively

The Council Membership Committee is tasked with keeping the representative nature of the Law Society’s Council under review. Their work continues and Council were updated on the current breakdown of the profession and the work of the Committee is seeking to ensure that this is well represented within the Council structure of geographical, practice-based, and characteristic / community seats.

The Law Society’s Annual General Meeting, open to all members, is on Thursday 4 July 2019 at 2.30 pm in 113 Chancery Lane, following a Council meeting on 3 July (all day) and 4 July (morning only).

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