Robertsons Solicitors hint at legal sector's issues of importance for party leaders
As the December 12 general election draws ever closer, both major parties have made a statement in their policies for addressing crime and justice.
Conservative pledges in particular for the justice sector have come under the microscope. Prime minister Boris Johnson bombastically announced that there will be 20,000 new police officers on the streets, 10,000 additional places in UK prisons and an extension to stop and search powers to cover known knife carriers.
Among Johnson’s promises are plans to bring in harsher sentences for those committing violent crime, a review of the parole system and an investment of £500 million into youth services.
Meanwhile, the Labour party has committed to restoring police officer numbers to 2010 levels, alongside the introduction of a presumption against prison sentences of six months or less for non-violent and non-sexual offences.
Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to invest in proven alternatives to custodial sentences, including women's centres and problem-solving courts. Probation will be also become reunified in what the party says will be a 'publicly run, locally accountable' probation service.
However, for some operating in the legal profession, the issue surrounding legal aid cannot be overlooked either.
Chris Barber is a solicitor at the 116-year-old Robertsons Solicitors firm in Cardiff, which provides commercial and family legal services to clients across the UK. It also has interests in the mediation sector, with its overall approach spanning family, conveyancing, personal injury, employment and property law.
Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, Barber discussed how the future of legal aid would be of importance to the wider legal sector in the context of the Brexit outcome. With an election now approaching and both parties aligning their respective approaches to legal aid with their Brexit strategies, they could do worse than heed such concerns from the industry itself.
Barber said: “Brexit is one of the seminal issues of our political era and it has caused widespread uncertainty within a number of industry sectors. In the legal sector in particular Brexit could have an impact on funding for legal aid, but this will depend on the overall effect that the UK’s departure from the EU will have on the British economy.”
With regards to legal aid, both major parties have weighed up the issue in their respective manifestos.
The Conservative manifesto does stop short on going into great detail, with more focus on empowering the police, but a key point of consideration is the introduction of a so-called ‘victims law’, which would guarantee the rights of victims of crime and the degree of support that they should receive.
The Labour manifesto on the other hand seems to place more of an emphasis on legal aid and the court system as opposed to empowering the police force. The party has pledged to restore legal aid for early advice, prevention of further court closures and the recruitment of hundreds of new community lawyers.
The early legal aid advice that will be covered includes issues such as housing, social security, family and cases surrounding immigration.
The manifesto goes on to say that it will defend workers’ ability to recover legal representation costs from negligent employers and retain the right for workers to be represented and recover their costs where employer negligence has led to personal injury.
The party has also promised an investment of £100 million into maintaining the courts estate over the next five years, along with a review of the courts reform programme.
Its manifesto reads: 'We will facilitate a more representative judiciary while upholding its independence, and review funding for the Crown Prosecution Service.”
As well as the importance of legal aid both in party policy and post-Brexit, Barber also highlighted other issues surrounding regulation within the legal sector which both major parties could also place more focus on.
One issue has arisen from the strict regulation of chargeable fees and the mostly fixed fees for personal injury claims.
Barber explained: “Fees for personal injury claims are now mostly fixed and this had led to a trend of conveyor-belt firms, who are completing as many cases as quickly as possible in order to remain profitable.”
This, in Barber’s view, will have an adverse impact on industry standards and he called upon regulators to act upon legal firms behaving in such a way.
“This does not bode well for industry standards and a trend towards volume over quality should be acted upon by regulators.”
With the election approaching and a high-volume of concern over what party policies and the impact of Brexit will ultimately mean for the legal industry, party leaders would do well to heed what the industry is saying if it is to create a system that works for all. For certain, they will need to do so if the industry to be strong and robust both after the election, after Brexit, and well into the future.