Law Society of England and Wales

Council Report (December 2011)

The Law Society’s Wales Committee (Part One)

The Wales Committee was set up in 2004 to play a key role in the representative work of the Society in Wales. It reports to two boards - the Legal Affairs and Policy Board and the Membership Board. The high quality of the written and oral submissions to the consultations from Westminster, the Welsh Government and the National Assembly is testimony to the work of this specialist advisory committee.

The purpose of this article (and Part 2, which follows in February’s Legal News), is to outline its role and tell you who we are and what we do.

The Members of the Committee

All 5 Council Members who represent the Welsh geographic constituencies are automatically members of the Wales Committee. They are Carolyn Kirby, who is the chairman of the Mental Health Tribunal for Wales and Robin ap Cynan, a practising mediator, both of whom are former chairs of the committee, John Pickup, who is a consultant with Mosshaselhurst in Cheshire, Jonathan Stephens, of Jonathan Stephens and Co in Usk, who specialises in agricultural law, and me. I teach on the Legal Practice Course at Cardiff Law School and I chair the Wales Committee.

There are currently another 8 members who come from a wide range of professional (and geographical) backgrounds. They were recruited through open competition following an advertisement in The Law Society Gazette and will serve for three years. They are Michael Imperato, Jane Lang, Dylan Jones, Mair Hickman, Mandy Rowsell, Clive Thomas, Richard Owen and Peter Jones.

We have a good mix of members and interests but are keen to strengthen our links with three sectors of the profession: junior lawyers, solicitors working in commerce and industry, and local government lawyers.

Terms of reference

The Wales Committee’s terms of reference are:

  1. To report to the Law Society’s Office in Wales the views of the members of the Society in Wales on current priorities for the profession and the Law Society’s services.
  2. To advise as necessary on the Operational Plan for Wales.
  3. To receive reports on the implementation of the Operational Plan for Wales.
  4. To monitor the progress of devolution in Wales.
  5. To monitor the programme of devolved legislation in Wales and to liaise as necessary with the National Assembly for Wales.
  6. To advise on policy issues that affect the use and development of the Welsh language within and by the Law Society.
  7. To promote the use of the Welsh language in the delivery of legal services within Wales and
  8. To disseminate to the profession in Wales and to solicitors in England information about the activities of the National Assembly for Wales and the impact of legislation passed by that Assembly.

These terms of reference fall into 4 categories: liaison with the profession in Wales, scrutinising the Operational Plan for Wales, which is drawn up by The Wales Office, monitoring devolution and the functions relating to the Welsh language. Part 2 of this article will deal with the liaison with the profession in Wales and monitoring devolution.

Part 2 in the next issue!

Chancery Lane News

Since I wrote my last article for Legal News, I have attended two Law Society council meetings in Chancery Lane, chaired a meeting of the Wales Committee, chaired the Confederation’s Civil Law Review day and attended the Legal Wales Conference, the Legal Aid Roadshow, the DPP’s presentation on Digital Working at Capital Tower and the Law Society’s Committee Chairs meeting at Chancery Lane on 25 October. I missed the Jackson Roadshow on costs as this was held simultaneously with the Legal Aid Roadshow. There have been papers to read and papers to write, too.

Council meetings

I am writing this article during a weekend in which capitalism seems to be in free fall and two prime ministers in the Eurozone have been forced from office. In this context, Chancery Lane seems to be running smoothly - the President curtailed our November meeting by deferring the final item on the agenda to enable us to leave central London before demonstrating students made this even more difficult than usual - but that was the result of outside influences, not discord within the Society!

There is some good news. The contract between the LSC and the Shaftesbury Group (about which I wrote last time) has been terminated. The implementation of the QASA scheme will be delayed to try to resolve some issues raised by (amongst others) the Law Society. Well over 1,000 firms have applied for the CQS and I hope that more than 1,000 will have been accredited by the time you read this. Fewer than 40 firms are in the Assigned Risk Pool and there have been far fewer enquiries to the PII helpline this year. Coincidentally Seán Quinn, of Quinn Insurance, was declared bankrupt this week.

The most important business for November’s council meeting was new governance arrangements with the SRA. My 5 years on Council have been dominated by squabbles between the Law Society and the SRA. The pattern is that the SRA expresses dissatisfaction with some arrangement or other; the Law Society, after a bit of bluster, negotiates a new arrangement with the SRA; and a few months later the SRA expresses dissatisfaction with this and the process repeats itself. This is both tiresome and debilitating. Essentially the disagreements concern the delegation of the regulatory function. Although both agree that, in the exercise of its functions as approved regulator, the Law Society is accountable to the Legal Services Board, they disagree whether the SRA is accountable to the Law Society (as the Law Society believes) or not (as the SRA seems to believe).

In June 2010 the Law Society and SRA agreed how to resolve future disputes concerning “shared services”. These are services which are common to both the Law Society and the SRA but which they would control themselves if they were independent bodies. These services help each organisation exercise their functions but do not directly affect how they do so. These services are the IT programme, human resources, finance and premises.

The Law Society believes it is important to share these services to control cost. Thus the Law Society wants the SRA to have the same compatible IT system and it wants its remuneration package for its staff to apply to the SRA. The SRA would like to control its own IT programme and to pay its staff what it wants, rather than be limited to the Law Society’s pay policy (the SRA already pays its board and committee members - unlike the Law Society, which only pays the office-holders). Since neither the Law Society’s IT nor pay policy directly affect the SRA’s discharge of its regulatory function, these decisions are outside the SRA’s control, yet since they indirectly affect the SRA’s ability to perform its functions, the SRA wants to control them. You can see the scope for disagreement.

Last spring Charles Plant, the chair of the SRA, expressed dissatisfaction with the shared services dispute resolution arrangements he had agreed to only 9 months before. During its short existence the LSB has always sided with the SRA against the Law Society. The LSB has made it clear that it is not wholly happy with these arrangements (although it has agreed to them) and it is likely that if the SRA complains to the LSB that the arrangements interfere with its regulatory independence, the LSB will agree. Consequently the Law Society entered into fresh negotiations with the SRA to see if a new agreement could be reached. It was and after a debate in which some 30 council members spoke, council approved the new arrangements. I spoke in favour of them. I do not like the SRA reneging on arrangements it consented to freely last year, but I am prepared to give Charles Plant a second chance to honour his word. That seems reasonable. However, as I stated during the meeting, the SRA should not be given a third chance. I’ll always give people a second chance, but never a third chance.

Confederation’s Civil Law Review

I chaired this event for the first time since 2007. This was the best of these courses that I have attended (and I’ve been to 9 of the 12 we’ve held). Sadly, the news from both Tim Musgrave’s superb talk on Current Issues in Clinical Negligence and Mark Harvey’s lecture on the Jackson reforms was bleak, but I reckon if I’m going to get depressed, I want information, rather than rumour, to depress me. So I could tolerate the bout of informed depression that affected me.

David Dixon

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