YLAL Meeting Minutes 10.02.2016

Attendees: Oliver, Rachel, Katie, Anna, Clementine, Nishmita, Emily, Susanne, Kate, Henry, Clyde, Sam, Francesca, Nathan, Rosie, Ornina and more.

1. Welcome

Our co-chairs Rachel and Ollie welcomed everyone and introduced the meeting.

2. Criminal legal aid

Greg Foxsmith, solicitor advocate and President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) joined us to speak about the criminal legal aid contracts disputes and the government's decision to abandon its plan to introduce two tier contracts for duty and own client work, as well as to suspend the second 8.75% fee cut for 12 months.

LCCSA was set up 60 years ago. It is a representative body for criminal lawyers in London and was formed originally to provide training, social events and lobbying. In the last few years, as the cuts to legal aid were so pernicious and deep and access to ministers was lost, it has reinvented itself as a campaigning organisation, leading campaigns and demonstrations.

Here’s some highlights from Greg’s talk:

·      First we were Grayling-ed, then Gove-ed. Anything would be an improvement after Grayling. Gove is now reversing everything Grayling did, and criminal legal aid lawyers are happier!

·      There are issues and concerns remaining in criminal legal aid. However, Greg had just come from a meeting at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) which was on friendly terms. The MoJ is looking at going back to basics and having a proper duty solicitor rota without ‘ghosts’ (solicitors who pass their duty exams but then sell their slots to firms). The LCCSA welcome that.

·      He has noticed a real sea-change in the mood music at the MoJ, where the MoJ is being more collaborative in its approach, whereas Grayling refused to meet practitioners’ groups. However, it is still the case that more funding is needed.

·      Greg suggested that YLAL make a submission to the MoJ on duty slots being attached to duty solicitors themselves, rather than to their firms. This has been the case previously, however there is some lobbying to change this, which could be detrimental for young duty solicitors, as you would not be able to take this with you if you move firms.

·      Greg told us that in some ways, Gove’s recent announcement is a bittersweet victory: LCCSA spent a lot of money on the first judicial review which found that the consultation concerning two tier contracting was unlawful. When asked about the impact on firms, Greg confirmed that some firms had closed and some had merged, although LCCSA do not have figures.

·      Greg was asked by an attendee whether the 12 month suspension on the 8.75% cut is likely to be a permanent suspension. Greg said that he thought this might happen, but politically it may have been too large a stand down to announce at the same time as the abandoning of two tier contracts.

·      Greg was asked whether he could see any other icebergs on the horizon for criminal legal aid. He told us that he thought that the MoJ seem genuinely to be looking for a period of peace, and that digital working in courts will potentially save the money required by the Treasury

·      Greg also asked us whether we could discuss what we think would be a feasible reduced LCCSA membership rate for YLAL members, as currently the annual membership for any member is £75. If you have any thoughts about this, please email us.

·      Exciting to know there are YLALs! Thank you for sustaining the profession.

You can follow Greg on Twitter here.

3. Meeting with Shailesh Vara, Conservative Minister for Legal Aid

Shailesh Vara, the Minister for Legal Aid, has agreed to meet our co-chairs Rachel Francis and Oliver Carter on 7 March 2016 at the Ministry of Justice.

We discussed possible subjects to raise with the Minister during this meeting, including the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, the residence test, court fees, social mobility and diversity, legal aid for domestic violence, social welfare law, litigants in person, CFAs and private children law disputes.

If you have any questions you think we should ask Shailesh Vara during this meeting, please email us to let us know.

4. Ongoing cases: the residence test and domestic violence evidence criteria

Residence test challenge – the proposal by Government is to restrict civil legal aid to those who have been lawfully resident in country for 12 months. Public Law Project has applied for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, after the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s judgment that the proposed residence test is unlawful.

Domestic violence evidence criteria challenge – this case was brought by Rights of Women against evidence criteria brought in by government for who should obtain legal aid in family cases where people have been victims of domestic violence. This challenge was unsuccessful in Administrative Court. The judgment was appealed and the challenge was heard at end of January. Judgment was reserved and so at the time of the meeting we were awaiting the outcome. Since our meeting, the Court of Appeal judgment has been handed down, with Rights of Women being successful in their appeal. You can read Rights of Women’s press release here, and the full judgment here.

5. The Labour Party legal aid review

The Labour Party announced a review into legal aid shortly after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader. Lord Bach and Karl Turner MP are going to be undertaking the review, to cover all aspects of legal aid. The review’s launch event was on 3 November 2015, which asked for suggestions and feedback about what the review should be focusing upon.

You can read the Commission’s call for evidence here, and read more about this in Sir Henry Brooke’s blog here, and in Owen Bowcott's Guardian article here, which includes a full list of the members of the commission.

YLAL produced a briefing note and will give evidence to the Commission. If you want assist with YLAL’s submission, please get involved in our YLAL Campaigns sub-group.

6. SRA consultation on Solicitors Qualifying Examination

Following our September meeting with Julie Brannan, the consultation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has now opened, with responses due by 4 March 2016.  

If you're interested in contributing, please get in touch as soon as possible. YLAL is preparing a response, which we will publish in due course.

This consultation follows the Bar Standards Board (BSB) consultation, which also follows on from Legal Education and Training Review. In our response to the BSB consultation, YLAL asked to meet and bring a focus group to present the views of aspiring and junior legal aid lawyers. BSB has updated us recently that its analysis of responses is now published on website, and that it is in the process of organising its stakeholder engagement plan, and will ensure that YLAL invited to those meetings. YLAL’s coordination for this will be under our Social Mobility subgroup, so if you’re an aspiring or qualified barrister who would like to join any meeting we have with the BSB, please sign up to Social Mobility subgroup to get involved.

7. APPG update

YLAL jointly coordinates the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group. Its next meeting is Wednesday 9 March 2016 between 9am - 10am.

Email us or sign up to the APPG subgroup if you want to get involved.

8. YLAL outside London

YLAL South West held its launch event on 9 February 2016 which was very successful, with around 50 attendees. Ollie attended to talk about what YLAL is and how people can get involved, Polly Sweeney from the public law department at Irwin Mitchell spoke about her successful legal aid cases. Feedback from the evening was very positive. After its first successful event, YLAL South West is now planning its next event for May or June 2016. To get involved, please join the YLAL South West google group or email us. 

YLAL Kent’s next meeting is on 12 March 2016 at 1pm at the Old Buttermarket, Canterbury. Our guest speaker will be Emma Cooke, who is a PhD student at the University of Kent. Emma is based in the School of Social Policy, Social Research and Sociology. The title of her thesis is: "The Changing Occupational Terrain of the Legal Aid Lawyer in times of Precariousness". To sign up, please click here.

YLAL Liverpool is meeting on 10 March 2016, 6 – 8pm at Exchange Chambers (1 Derby Square L2 9XX). With our speakers we will consider the current situation in the legal aid and advice sector and consider what action we can and should take to improve access to justice and assist young lawyers as they begin their legal aid career. Please join us and share your experiences and ideas; discuss, debate and drink tea (or wine!). To register, please sign up here

9. YLAL blogs

Our blogs are Thanks to Legal Aid and View from the Gravy Train.

Please submit your case studies to help us debunk the myth of ‘fat cat’ legal aid lawyers and demonstrate the valuable work that is funded by legal aid.

10. AOB

YLAL Jobs: Ollie explained that YLAL’s new policy is that we will not advertise jobs which do not specify a salary or salary range. This is for reasons of transparency, as YLAL believes that applicants should be able to make an informed choice as to whether they can live on a salary before they put often many hours into preparing an application for a job.

This policy was well supported by attendees. One attendee asked whether this change in policy had meant that any jobs were now not being advertised, and if so, how many. Gimhani told us that most firms, when asked, responded to us with a salary range for us to include.