Law Society of England and Wales

Council Report (October 2011)

As the forgettable summer we’ve just endured is forgotten and the leaves turn colour before dropping to the ground, another Law Society year begins. I am writing this on the autumnal equinox and between now and the time you read this piece the Wales committee will have met, council will have met, the Legal Wales conference will have

been and gone and the Confederation’s annual Civil Updates day will be upon us, if it has not taken place already. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention it – outcome-focused regulation will be with us too. It’s going to be a busy autumn.

The Wales committee

I am the new chairman of the Wales committee. It meets 4 times a year at Capital Tower. I hope to write something about it in Legal News in due course. In the meantime I can treport that the committee is finding its feet as 5 new members have just been appointed. Since the National Assembly’s law-making powers increased earlier this year, this is an exciting and important time to work to be a member of the committee and I am sure that we will work together well and with the Wales Office to represent the views of practitioners in Wales, monitor the Assembly’s activities and disseminate to the profession in England and Wales information about the activities of the Assembly and the impact of the legislation it passes.

Council

I should have reported in the August issue of Legal News about the July council meeting. Sadly I was under the surgeon’s knife when council met and still off work recuperating when the Legal News deadline expired. A strong team is leading the Law Society this year. The president, John Wotton, is a consultant at Allen and Overy. He is authoritative but has an easy manner. He is highly articulate and intelligent, he speaks in measured tones but gets his points across very clearly. I am sure that under his leadership relations between the Law Society and both the SRA and LSB will improve. Those of you who have heard vice president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff speak, will know that she too is articulate and persuasive. She is also pre-eminent within her field of practice (mental health law) and a business innovator (her practice is a virtual firm). The deputy vice-president is Nick Fluck, who is a commercial conveyancer. He is the funniest man on council but he has earned his office having served as a member of the Management Board for several years, so he knows the business of the Law Society and its relations with the SRA very well.

Implementation of ABS

In March council authorised the SRA’s application to the LSB to license ABSs. This was an awkward point in relations with the SRA as the SRA was not as transparent about aspects of its application as council would have liked. Further, the SRA wanted the Law Society’s authorisation to be given at that meeting so it could license ABSs from 6 October. Had we known about the Bostalls fiasco the authorisation would probably not have been given.

Bostalls was in many respects the first ABS. It was a business owned by a non-lawyer (the improbably named Mr Scripture) which won a contract with the LSC to provide telephone advice to suspects at the police station under a scheme called CDS Direct. In 2007 the SRA granted Bostalls a waiver to enable it to provide legal services to the public, despite the reservations, criticism, warnings and hostility of the Law Society. We never learned why the waiver was granted. In May Bostalls was wound up and the LSC transferred its CDS Direct contract to a business called the Shaftesbury Group, which was owned by Mr Scripture and employed the same staff who discharged the same service.

Fortunately the LSC suspended the Shaftesbury Group’s contract this summer. However, the Bostalls experience is highly unsatisfactory. It was the much criticised LSC which shut the business down, not the SRA. Had the winding-up of Bostalls occurred and been public knowledge in March, I am certain that the Law Society, as the approved regulator, would not have authorised the application for the SRA to license ABSs. We need to be satisfied that the SRA discovers precisely what happened to Bostalls and that it identifies and learns any lessons it needs to learn as a result of this debacle. It is not good enough for the SRA to decline to comment on individual waivers or for Mr Scripture to say that Bostalls was solvent but he didn’t contest the winding-up because he wanted to set up a new company to enable him to sell golf aids. We don’t want incidents like this to become par for the course when the SRA regulates ABSs!

Fortunately, as a result of matters beyond the Law Society’s control, the SRA has been unable to start licensing ABS from 6 October and the date when these businesses will begin to trade has been postponed and is unknown at the time of writing.

David Dixon 

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