A Christmas Carol for Legal Service Users (with apologies to Mr Dickens)

Christmas Past: Over the past year we faced the spectre of significant reduction in the protection available to those using the services of solicitors, with the proposed SRA reforms to their rules on PII.  We were also experiencing some frustration with the slow pace at which the CMA reforms on transparency were being taken forward. The good cheer is that the SRA have now decided against implementing their proposals on PII, and both they and other regulators have taken some important steps forward over the past year in publishing information both on price and on some aspects of quality, such as ensuring that information on disciplinary decisions are displayed clearly on the regulators’ websites. Work still in progress…

Christmas Present:  We now have an up to date view of how all the legal services regulators are performing, against the targets set by the Legal Services Board.  If this report were a bottle, we would have to say it is only half full (or half empty if we are in Scrooge mood). Perhaps a rather small bird for a rather large number of legal services users?  Our Consumer Impact Report, to be published in early February will shed a bit more light on this mixed picture.

Christmas Yet to Come:  But the scariest ghost is the one we all have the potential to change: how can we try to ensure that advances in technology and other reforms that may or not be in the offering will make real inroads into the increasing gaps emerging around access to justice?  The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society have issued a challenge to the incoming government to fix the UK’s justice system.  It is vital that this challenge is taken up and treated with the priority it deserves, as the cuts that have applied across this system, including but not only in legal aid, and the prospect of advice deserts spreading in many geographical and service areas, are threatening to undermine the UK’s reputation as a place where justice is held in high esteem and can be accessed by all on a fair basis.  We have some of the best lawyers in the world, and we are rightly proud of our legal system, but if significant swathes of the population cannot afford to access it, or are not given the right information at the right time to know how to use it, we will have failed.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Panel!