Update from Law Society Council Members Kathryn King and Scott Bowen

Having been appointed as Council Members in July 2019, the first two meetings have already flown by. Council met on the 3rd October 2019 and the 5th December 2019. We hope to bring you up to date with developments over the last few months.


Much of this time has been dominated by the word we shall not mention, beginning with “B” and the General Election. A lot of the usual Law Society work has therefore been on hold awaiting the outcome and strategising so as to be prepared for which Government would be in power.


We now know that we have a Conservative Majority Government and whilst many will be happy about that, this may well make some of the Law Society’s campaigning around Access to Justice and Legal Aid a little harder.


Time will tell…..


Prior to Purdah, the Law Society was continuing to support works on funding inquests for people who are unable to access legal aid. The Policy and Regulatory Affairs Committee had approved a plan designed for restructuring legal aid provision, into Law Society policy. The plan detailed the Society’s intention to reintroduce early legal advice in family law cases, to reintroduce legal aid in all finance cases, and to bring back legal aid for alleged perpetrators of abuse in domestic violence cases. There were 120 MPs lobbying for change to practice direction 12J (on child arrangements and contact orders involving domestic abuse and harm), for there to be legal representation provided to alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse. It was a major issue that more children were being killed in situations where there is unsafe contact. There have been ongoing discussions about the Flexible operating hours and the pilot. An update is expected on that.


The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) allocation includes a 4.9% increase in real terms to the department’s resource budget from 2019-20 to 2020-21, with £55 million bookmarked for use across the Criminal Justice System to “support the work of 20,000 additional police officers and additional funding to support the ongoing reform of the probation system, which will help reduce reoffending and improve the quality of post-custody supervision.”


The Law Society met with the Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister Wendy Morton MP to emphasise that the whole Criminal Justice System, including courts and defence fees, need to be funded for the Government to achieve their aims. We have also raised this with MoJ officials.


The Law Society sent a letter to Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rishi Sunak MP, following the spending review and the proposed budget (which was then cancelled). With a three-year spending review expected next year and the new Government likely to hold a budget soon after the election, the Law Society will approach the Treasury ministerial team to discuss the funding of the justice system.


The Criminal Legal Aid review is still on-going. The work on the accelerated items is apparently continuing and we are told it will be completed according to the timetable. Any final proposal will need to be approved by the Treasury though. Work is continuing in respect of Criminal Legal Aid Solicitors which has also been affected quite dramatically by CPS recruitment drives.


In Wales, the published recommendations of the Commission on Justice reflect long held frustrations of the Welsh Government and wider civil society that Wales has been historically underfunded and hit harder than England by the deep cuts to justice funding by Westminster Governments over the last decade. Estimated expenditure by the UK government on the justice system in Wales has fallen by a third since 2009-10, although increased funding by the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities has offset some of these cuts. The Commission on Justice recommendations are wide ranging, and the Wales office is in the process of canvassing members across Wales for their views and opinions on the published recommendations.


The Law Society has submitted a response to the SRA consultation on assuring advocacy standards. The Law Society supported the general approach of not changing advocacy rights, instead relying on the professional obligation not to undertake work beyond your competence. We stressed the need for any proposals to be evidence based, and highlighted areas where we considered that they were not. We emphasised the need to ensure that any requirement for higher standards did not further damage an already fragile market, particularly in areas covered by legal aid. We agreed with the principle that youth courts require separate consideration but did not support the proposal that higher advocacy rights were an appropriate reflection of the skills needed in the youth courts.


Since the SRA began to develop SQE in 2014, the Law Society has responded to all four rounds of consultation and the SRA have met many of our key demands. The inclusion of a degree level qualification and two full working years of qualifying work-experience as requirements were major wins.


In addition to raising concerns with the SRA, the Law Society has been heavily engaged in ensuring the profession is aware of the upcoming change to legal education. Most recently this culminated in an updated SQE overview available on our website. The overview outlines all currently known information on the SQE and is a live document, updated with new information as it become available. Alan East (Chair of Education and Training Committee) has been conducting a podcast series focusing on different elements of the SQE. The most recent of which was recorded with Julie Brannan (Director of Education and Training at the SRA) covering the SQE 1 pilot results. The podcasts are released every 4-6 weeks and aim to provide different perspectives on the SQE’s development. Alongside providing members with key information on the SQE, the Law Society has participated in a range of conferences and roundtables (Legal Cheek, Nottingham University, Coventry, Law Gazette), and consistently provides updates to members through digital communications (social media, professional update, presidents update). We continue to argue for the SQE to be offered in the Welsh language and have meet with key officials to discuss the importance of it. The Wales office recently met with the Welsh Government Counsel General, Jeremy Miles AM, and will continue to follow up with him and his office.


Due to the sustained pressure resulting from the Law Society’s campaign against the increase in probate fees, the Government has now confirmed that it has scrapped its proposals to raise fees charged for a grant of probate. The fee hike had already been put on hold following the prorogation of parliament, but the announcement means that the controversial policy will not be revived. Pressure from the Law Society and opposition from the public and MPs meant the Government never brought the plans to a vote in the House of Commons.


Tax legislation and policy is complex and in occasions unclear and difficult to apply. To address this issue, the Law Society made representations to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Treasury (HMT), produced evidence-based policy briefings and lobbied officials and ministers with the following positive outcomes:

  • Structures and Buildings Allowance: we responded to HMRC in support of this proposal which is now being introduced. Two specific positive changes to the draft regulations were made following our consultation response, namely in the commencement provisions (the concept of ‘connected preparatory contract’ has gone) and in additions relating to the interaction of the new allowance with capital gains tax.
  • Digital Services Tax: the DST draft legislation addressed points made in our consultation response by making amendments to avoid double taxation on certain transactions and allowing DST to be calculated and reported at group level to simplify administration.
  • Off payroll working rules: the draft legislation introducing off payroll working rules into the private sector included a provision to pass information about worker status determinations down the contractual chain to the worker in line with one of our consultation response recommendations. The legislation also picked up concerns we raised with HMRC about the imposition of secondary liabilities on top parties in the labour supply chain who are not at fault. The government’s summary of responses indicated that their position on this had changed positively to limit the application of secondary liabilities. We are following up to ensure that this policy change is reflected properly in the law.
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax non-residents surcharge: we raised significant concerns about the proposed introduction of this surcharge and were pleased that it was not included in Finance Bill 2019, although it may still appear in a future finance bill.
  • Offshore Receipts in respect of Intangible Property: we provided comments to HMRC on a draft statutory instrument introducing these important new tax rules. We raised concerns about the scope of a number of the exemptions to the new tax charge, including de minimis provisions and protections against double taxation. These have been reflected and changed by HMRC in response in updated regulations published in October 2019, which should make the rules more practicable for taxpayers and solicitors.

Members should be aware that the new Law Society website is now live for testing. Council Members have been sent information on how they can join other members taking part in testing and feeding back on the new site. Six different test periods will run as The Law Society develops the site and the new, simpler MyLawSociety registration process will be at the heart of the drive to personalise the content given to members. It is this that is perhaps the most important development ongoing currently. If our short experience of Council activity has demonstrated anything, it is that the Law Society does a lot of good work on behalf of the profession. However, it does not feed that back to its members properly and this needs to improve. This is at the heart of current Law Society policy and something we heartily endorse. The development of the Website with a more personalised, representational focus should assist the Law Society in providing a service that is seen to be better and in the interests of you, the members.


All that remains to be said, is we hope everyone enjoys a very well deserved break over the Christmas period. We are, as always, your Council Members and should anyone wish to raise any issues with us to take back to Chancery Lane, we look forward to hearing from you.


Scott Bowen.scott-bowen-for-web 











kathryn-king Kathryn King.


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