President’s news – New Conveyancing sub-committee

At the first main committee meeting of the year on 18th January 2012, a lot of discussion took place in relation to developments in the conveyancing field. HSBC have recently announced that their mortgage work will only be undertaken by solicitors on a panel which is limited to 43 firms across the country. Members of the committee expressed significant concern with regard to this development and also as to other mortgage panels limiting the ability of solicitors to act for their clients. I feel these developments pose a serious challenge to the profession, but equally importantly impinge on the rights of clients to chose their own solicitor for conveyancing work.

In light of these other developments in the conveyancing field, it was agreed in the meeting that a conveyancing sub-committee would be established, to be open to any member who wishes to attend. I outlined at the start of the year my wish to establish sub committees for various subject areas over a period of time. The first of these will be the conveyancing sub-committee. I hope that more sub committees will follow in other areas in due course

I am sure that the conveyancing sub committee will provide a valuable forum for conveyancers within members firms to discuss the challenges which they face and to share experiences and ideas.
Edward Cooke

President of the Chichester and District Law Society

President’s report – Sussex Law Society Meeting

I attended and chaired the biannual Sussex Law Society Meeting on 30th January 2012 in Lewes. This meeting was attended by presidents and other office holders from the various local Law Societies across West and East Sussex.

During the meeting we discussed the various challenges which the profession currently faces. Jonathan Smithers, chairman of the national Law Society Conveyancing Committee, was able to update us as to developments with regard to the HSBC’s new panel arrangements. HSBC have decided to limit their panel of solicitors to 43 firms across the country, thereby severely limiting customer choice. Jonathan encouraged firms and local law societies to contact their local MP to draw attention to the issue and assured everyone that the Law Society is doing what it can to respond to this issue.

Discussion also focused on the first batch of applications for alternative business structure status. Kim Seth, the Law Society’s Regional Manager, reported that at the last count there had been 44 applications, including the Coop, for ABS status.

There was also a lengthy discussion with regard to the difficulties encountered in members obtaining practicing certificates this year. Kim acknowledged that there had been huge problems this year due to the new system that had been introduced. Kim said that The Law Society is doing everything it possibly can to ensure that a better system will be in place by next year.

Edward Cooke

President of the Chichester and District Law Society

Challenge to Justice – The Legal Aid Cuts

Amongst the media coverage about public sector spending cuts, one item that has received relatively little attention has been cuts to the legal aid and court service budgets. These cuts are a major source of concern, not least as a result of the very serious impact they are likely to have on the most vulnerable and underprivileged in society.

Over the last few months, the Government’s controversial legal aid reforms have been going through Parliament. The Government is hoping to save £350 million a year through these cuts.

In the family law sphere, the impact of the cuts could be very severe indeed. The proposal is essentially that, with the exception of care work and for people who have been victims of domestic violence, legal aid will no longer be available to clients who need to resolve matters through the courts.

The Government will continue to fund legal aid in mediation. Whilst as a family mediator I welcome the support for mediation as a process that benefits many families, it is clearly not going to be suitable in every case. Equally, it is very important that clients are able to receive representation from independent solicitors whilst attending mediation – it is very unclear whether there will be sufficient provision available to ensure this happens.

The impact of the legal aid cuts will be that across the country, tens of thousands of people who cannot afford legal representation will be forced to act for themselves in person in relation to financial issues arising upon divorce or in relation to issues relating to their children. Such people may struggle to represent themselves without legal help, creating serious risks, for example that children may lose contact with one of their parents or be subjected to unfair financial arrangements that harm their upbringing.

I believe that the changes proposed under the bill, which is due to receive Royal Assent later this year, will fundamentally impact on access to justice, which is one of the bedrocks of a civil society. The courts will inevitably find themselves clogged up with unrepresented litigants at the very time when court budgets are coming under severe strain as a result of further cuts. This is likely to lead to significant delays in the court system, as people seeking to represent themselves are not familiar with processes and cases will therefore inevitably take much longer.

Edward Cooke

President of the Chichester and District Law Society

Law Society call to action on HSBC panel

We are supporting the Law Society campaign and joining in with the lobbying that is going on around the country on this issue.

We are encouraging members to support the campaign by asking clients who are affected to complete this evidence form to collate the information and feed this into the Law Society at consumer.choice@lawsociety.org.uk 

For the evidence form please click here

It is vitally important that as a Society we take part in these activities in order to protect the interests of our members and the public.

We have also received an update from the Chief Executive of the Law Society which can be read online here

SRA starts survey of solicitors on CPD

We have been informed that the Solicitors Regulation Authority has commissioned Nottingham Law School, part of Nottingham Trent University, to undertake research supporting the Review of Solicitors Continuous Professional Development.  We have been contacted by Nottingham Trent University and asked to forward this information to our members.  

An important element of the research is to gather information relating to the experience of as many solicitors as possible of the existing CPD framework and their sense of its effectiveness.  

The survey is open until 20 April 2012 and can be found here:

http://www.sra.org.uk/cpd/