The Law Society believes the legal sector of England and Wales underpins the UK economy. At the time of writing, a period of political uncertainty, together with Brexit negotiations becoming the priority of government, seem likely to scupper the Law Society’s vision for law and justice becoming a reality during the life of this Parliament.
Reinstate legal aid for early advice, particularly in housing and family law
At present, legal aid is restricted to a tight means-tested process for civil cases. Legal aid may provide practitioners with a chance to deal with low-level housing and family disputes at an early stage, before matters escalate and end up in court. An increasing number of cases involving litigants in person could be restrained by early resolution with the assistance of legal advice.
It is unlikely that the Conservative minority government will expand the availability of legal aid in this Parliament. The courts could be faced with the costs of dealing with increasing numbers of claims that may otherwise have been disposed of following early advice from legal practitioners.
Negotiate access for UK lawyers to practise law across the EU, base themselves in the EU, and have rights of audience and legal professional privilege in EU courts
Lawyers involved in litigation that spans different EU member states are able to provide a more comprehensive service to their clients than those who are restricted in their ability to provide legal services across EU member states. England and Wales, and London in particular, is often seen as a desirable location for resolving complex or high value international disputes, whether through the courts or alternative dispute resolution. It is not uncommon for commercial contracts to specify that any disputes that arise are to be resolved under the law of, and within the jurisdiction of, England and Wales. However, preserving the right to practise across the EU will enable many lawyers to continue to offer their services to clients who operate throughout the European market, even if the jurisdiction of England and Wales does not lose its attraction as a leading legal centre on the back of Brexit.
With Brexit negotiations on the horizon, practitioners and their clients will be keeping a close eye on any deal the government agrees and its implications for UK based lawyers who wish to practice across the EU. A new Lord Chancellor has been appointed who robustly opposed the UK’s exit from the EU during the referendum campaign. However, his lack of experience in the legal sector may prove unhelpful when listening to the concerns practitioners hold on this topic.
Ensure civil justice cooperation is maintained with the EU in the interest of consumers, families and businesses
Similarly, the type of deal that the government agrees during Brexit negotiations will be crucial in shaping the civil justice relationship between the UK and the EU. Around three million EU nationals currently reside in the UK and form part of both the UK’s consumer base and its business sector. The EU has stressed the importance of securing EU citizens’ rights within the UK, a difficult topic that will inevitably permeate the entirety of the Brexit discussions.
Business leaders are urging the UK government not to risk jeopardising a recovering UK economy that has experienced an upturn following recent economic downfall. Practitioners will be wary of their clients’ reactions to any change in civil justice cooperation, not least those businesses that rely on EU nationals within their workforce. Practitioners may face an increase in the number of clients seeking advice on employment rights and existing trade agreements.
Scrap the current employment tribunal fee system
Employment tribunal fees are likely to meet the same fate as legal aid during the term of this Parliament. The government will be focusing the majority of its efforts on Brexit negotiations and the need to maintain a stable economy. Reforms to any aspect of the legal system that involve increasing state expenditure are almost certain to be omitted from the pending Queen’s Speech. Employment practitioners are likely to see continued emphasis on early resolution of disputes through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) procedure.
The vision for law and justice set out by the Law Society is unlikely to be realised during the next Parliament. The long-term effects of failing to implement this vision, namely the associated financial and social consequences, will be far from the minds concerned with the imminent fallout of Brexit. The unravelling of EU law will become most pertinent to practitioners during this Parliament and the subsequent implications for legal practice remain uncertain.