Last Wednesday, I visited One Great George Street to hear the home secretary, Theresa May, give a keynote speech for the centre-right think tank Reform on the role of the Home Office in managing demand and on ongoing changes for the police service.
The home secretary quoted both recorded crime statistics and the independent crime survey to opine that crime is down by more than 10 per cent since the last general election and suggested that this proved that “police reform is working”.
May believes that in the future the government will need to work towards the “integration of the three emergency services”. She said: “In the last four years, we have achieved something no modern government has achieved before. We have proved that, through reform, it is possible to do more with less. We will need to go on doing more with less for many years into the future.”
Doing more with less appears to be a continuing theme for this government, whether it is policing, legal aid or the probation service. It was on the subject of probation reform that a question from the audience saw May having to defend her cabinet colleague, Chris Grayling, over allegations he is “decimating” the probation service.
We are now three months into Grayling’s reforms of the National Probation Service and probation officers are just as critical of the current Lord Chancellor/justice secretary hybrid as many of those within the legal profession.
Whether or not Theresa May and the rest of the cabinet will be able to stand by Grayling following suggestions that he has used ‘bluff and bully’ tactics to push through legal aid cuts remains to be seen. I expect they will. After all, we apparently need to be doing more with less.
Regulating the future
On Thursday, I was one of the delegates at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum to hear about the future of legal services regulation. There were speeches from prominent academics such as professors George Yarrow and Stephen Mayson on the trends and challenges affecting the regulation of the sector.
The new chair of the Legal Services Board, Sir Michael Pitt, chose the event to speak openly on what is next for reform of legal services regulation, claiming the 2007 Act is a “job half done,” and saying that he doubts whether “we still need 400 pages, 214 sections and 24 schedules to govern the legal system”.
The chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Paul Philip, used his speech to repeat the commitments made in the SRA’s Regulatory Reform Programme. Philip told delegates that while the licensing of alternative business structures (ABSs) over the last two years had gone well, larger companies offering a range of services were notable by their absence.
He said: “These were exactly the type of business the Legal Services Act was expected to facilitate: a ‘one-stop shop’ for consumers; opening up access to legal services, increasing competition in the market, driving down costs and improving value for money.”
He also spoke on how the SRA would make good on its promise to support smaller firms, some of whom may have felt neglected by the regulator: “Our programme will also focus on small businesses to ensure that the burden of regulation does not unduly fetter their ability to compete and thrive,” he said. “This will include a review of the COLP and COFA arrangements for this sector, looking at whether this framework is really required for such businesses, or whether it’s overkill.
“We have committed to a programme of increased operational efficiency, speeding things up, and improving customer care for everyone who uses our services. The journey will take some time, but we will get there.”
Some firms will be hoping that the SRA do not take too long to follow through on its promises.
Solicitors just give
Away from the debate on legal aid and regulation of the profession, I heard the story of a collection of lawyers and support staff at Douglas Wemyss solicitors, based in Leicester, who brought traffic to a standstill outside their city centre office when they soaked themselves in water for the ice bucket challenge. The firm has now donated £1,000 to Macmillan Cancer Research and a video of their chilly exploits can be seen here.
But Douglas Wemyss is not the only law firm doing their bit for charity. Sixteen brave staff members from Liverpool-based solicitor Jackson Canter took part in a 100ft high zip wire challenge across Liverpool City Centre for Woodlands Hospice last week.
Jackson Canter has supported Woodlands Hospice, which provides specialist palliative care from its base in north Liverpool, for two years. In that time, the firm has raised more than £4,000 for charity, and hopes that once all the money from their recent death-defying escapades is collected, they will have reached more than £5,000. The firm has a set up a Just Giving page where people can still donate to the Woodlands Hospice.
It just goes to show that not all lawyers are the ‘blood sucking’ and ‘ambulance chasing‘ types that some members of the government would wish to stereotype them as.
This blog was first published in the Solicitors Journal on 11 September 2014 and is reproduced with kind permission.