Since I became president in November 2013 the overwhelming impression I have is that the legal sector is under attack and the pace and scope of change is relentless. 4 months later I maintain that view. We now have been notified of the government’s final position on legal aid and there are a number of other themes on the horizon which will bring change and will be themes over the coming months.
The government has confirmed that it is going ahead with major cuts to the legal aid budget and the way in which legal aid is delivered. The cuts and changes will be devastating for many of our colleagues and raise serious concerns about the public’s access to justice and being treated fairly. In Bristol we saw more than 50 solicitors and barristers protesting against the cuts on 7th March 2014 outside Bristol Magistrates Courts. I have been involved with a number of meetings with the Law Society this month where local law societies were able to give views to help the Law Society respond to the MOJ. On the basis that the position is unlikely to change if there is a change of government in May 2015 then my view is that we need to prepare for the new landscape and to do all we can to support our members and firms over what will be a very difficult year ahead. I am afraid that the public have not been on the side of the profession on this issue but at some point the impact of the cuts will be felt when they experience the new system and discover they do not get the assistance and support they expected.
The current system under which all solicitors are required to undertake 16 hours per year of compulsory CPD needs to change to properly reflect the reality of modern legal practice. This month the Law Society has issued a consultation document proposing significant changes to the system. There was a roadshow in Bristol on 13th March 2014 at which the SRA set out its proposals and gave firms the chance to express views on the future of CPD. The most radical option is to remove the current prescriptive CPD regulations and rely on the provisions of the code of conduct. Change is coming and it is a question of making sure that the profession engages with the process to ensure the new system reflects modern practice and needs.
Members of LLPs face uncertainty following recent measures announced by HMRC aimed at curbing tax avoidance which come into effect on 6th April 2014. Revised guidance was issued at the end of February which has been broadly welcomed as they now recognise a partner can have significant influence without a formal management role which will help firms of all sizes. Many firms will have to review partnership structures ahead of April.
A government consultation on giving the Land Registry wider powers including taking over the local land charges function closed on 9th March 2014 and another consultation on turning the Land Registry into a service delivery company closes on 20th March 2014. There are concerns amongst property practitioners about how these proposed changes will affect confidence in the land registration system in this country. Opposition is continuing to build to the proposals (from Land Registry staff and practitioners alike) and the case for change does not seem compelling if it comes at the cost of damaging the integrity, neutrality and trust the Land Registry currently is known for.
On a more positive note looking ahead to forthcoming events during the year may I remind you that we have our managing partners dinner on Thursday 27th March 2014. We have over 20 managing partners coming to the dinner at which Des Hudson will be our guest speaker. If you would still like to come please contact Valerie Squire on 0117 976 3087.
Also Stephen Williams MP will be hosting a Q&A session for members in the Law Library on 25th April 2014 and looking further ahead I am delighted to tell you that Joshua Rosenberg will be our host at this year’s annual awards dinner on 23rd October 2014.
Finally I have decided that my charities of the year will be the Lord Mayors Children’s Appeal and Bristol Underprivileged Children’s Charity. I could not choose between the two charities so I took the easy option and went for both. Look out for the email shortly to tell you more and about the various fund raising events during the year.