• Sundeep Bhatia

Meeting with The Lord Chancellor at The Law society 11 Feb 2014

The invite arrived in my inbox last week. A summons ,wearing my Society of Asian Lawyers hat,to hear the Secretary of State hold Court on the thorny subject of Legal Aid. This was the third meeting in a year with The Lord Chancellor. The first was held at Parliament and this and the last one took place at Chancery Lane. The last one was subject to modified Chatham House rules. We were told,when invited,that the same rules applied. However,upon arrival at Chancery Lane I was informed that the meeting was now an open one and we could state and attribute anything said in the room. I also learnt that the meeting was taking place at the request of The Law Society. The following groups were present,amongst others.CLSA,LCCSA,SAL,BSN,BFG,reps from across the country and Office holders of the Last Society. The LCC contingent was present as we entered the Strand and Bell Rooms. On the dot of 3pm The Lord Chancellor ambled in accompanied by an entourage including Sailesh Vara MP. There then followed an hour of fairly polite political banter. There were no earth shattering revelations .The Lord Chancellor told us that he might be subject to Judicial Review if he told us precisely what was decided. However he did give us an idea of his thinking. The best title for this meeting would be that seminal Led Zeppelin live album,”The Song Remains the same .” There will be cuts.The Lord Chancellor has no wriggle room and has to make cuts now. The MOJ is required to make further cuts of £75 million from the Budget but the further cuts are not being taken from The Legal Aid Budget. Dual contracts are still on the table. The Lord Chancellor is still waiting for the Empirical evidence required so as to decide the size of duty contracts. That evidence will be published at the same time as the consultation response. Publication of the consultation response is imminent. I spoke to an LCC official afterwards who seemed to confirm that it would be published this month by repeating the words of Simon Hughes MP. The Lord Chancellor is still receptive to the idea of loose consortia whose members are subject to “joint and severable liability” and who are able to service the Duty Solicitor Schemes. The Lord Chancellor is looking at ways to streamline procedure for lawyers. There then followed an entertaining discussion on electronic working. The Lord Chancellor found it hard to believe that criminal Lawyers did not turn up to court without Laptops until he was told that most Magistrates Courts did not have wall sockets or wifi. Lastly,and most significantly,The Lord Chancellor will Consider giving funding to small firms so that they can adapt to the rigours of the new market. Watch this space.

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