All-change for Law Society

THE president of the Law Society was in East Anglia last week to discuss forthcoming changes in the role and structure of the organisation.Kevin Martin visited Ipswich and Norwich to meet solicitors from the region as part of a consultation process on how the society should function when its regulatory and representative functions split next year.

THE president of the Law Society was in East Anglia last week to discuss forthcoming changes in the role and structure of the organisation.

Kevin Martin visited Ipswich and Norwich to meet solicitors from the region as part of a consultation process on how the society should function when its regulatory and representative functions split next year.

The Ipswich leg of the visit was hosted by Gotelee & Goldsmith where partner Jonathan Ripman is the Suffolk & North Essex Law Society's representative on the national society's ruling council.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Martin said feedback from the consultation so far indicated wide support for a representative Law Society but balanced by a need for the body to be effective and to deliver value for money.

Besides high level representation on behalf of the profession to Government - particularly to the Department of Constitutional Affairs and the Home Office - Mr Martin said the society's representative role also involved many more detailed areas of concern.

For example, a bespoke Law Society-endorsed Home Information Pack had been produced which was likely to be recognised as one of the best and most relevant solutions available when HIPs become compulsory when putting homes up for sale.

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The society had also campaigned strongly in respect of Stamp Duty Land Tax which, said Mr Martin, had been “introduced in a hurry in 2003 and was a complete shambles”. Several significant improvements in how the tax was administered had been achieved as a result.

Another issue of concern was the wearing of wigs in court, said Mr Martin, not because solicitors particularly wanted to wear them but because they wanted genuine parity with barristers when appearing in court.

Despite wider rights of audience for solicitors in courts, they were differentiated from barristers by not being permitted to wear wigs and gowns. For solicitor advocates this was more than a cause of irritation because it cost them money when a client insisted of being represented by someone wearing a wig.

The Law Society would also continue to lobby in the area of judicial appointments, added Mr Martin, with senior appointments until now tending to be made from a relatively narrow group - mainly white and mainly male in particular.

A more transparent process was helping to widen the pool, with greater representation on the judiciary for women, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, but it was still the fact that solicitors were hardly represented on the High Court bench or the Court of Appeal.

The Law Society's consultation with members closes April 21, with its council due to discuss the findings at its meetings in May and July. Further consultation on detailed proposals is then likely, with the new structure due to come into effect in July 2007.

The regulatory side of the solicitors' profession, such as the Legal Services Ombudsman and the Complaints Commissioner, is being separated from the representative role of the Law Society to achieve greater transparency in avoiding conflicts of interest, actual or perceived.