Inside & Outside the Law - Clarity, Controversy...and the Co-Op

“Read all about it – senior judge tells his colleagues to write clearer judgements!”.

In a lecture this month, President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, urged judges to improve the clarity of their judgements. The catalyst has been the increasing appearance of self-represented litigants in proceedings.

Neuberger is reported as describing limiting readership of judgements to lawyers, judges and academics as “myopic”.

This stance seems only fair. Ignorance of the law is no defence, as every law student is taught. So ignorance of what a judgement is saying or meaning might appear unfair.

Recent protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice - against extradition

On the other hand, judgements are often necessarily complex depending on the facts and law involved. Neuberger set a benchmark of the content being understandable to “interested and reasonably intelligent non-lawyers”. On which side of the line that would leave each of those who take their case to law unaided, is a matter for speculation.

On the topic of behaving fairly, three firms of solicitors have been censured by the senior judge of the Queen’s Bench Division, Sir John Thomas, for failing in their duty as lawyers representing clients seeking to avoid removal after failed asylum applications.

The duty, when you are applying ex parte (that is without the other party – here effectively the Government – being present) is to disclose all material factors relating to the application, including factors that are against the applicant.

This is a controversial area, with last-minute applications putting strain and expense upon the (taxpayer funded) justice system, but with opposite arguments on the right to use the system that has been put in place. The nub is “what is a meritless case?”.

And alongside on the same day, protest against alleged paedophilia

Practising law today is not a comfortable environment for many. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has just reported that in the last three years the number of sole practitioners has dropped by 18% from 4,095 to 3,377, and the number of solicitors’ partnerships has dropped by 26% to 2,896.

The latter statistic should be treated with care, as there has been a rise in the re-registration of traditional partnerships into Limited Liability Partnerships (the latter limit the individual personal liability of partners).

More significant is the development of Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) that enable corporate structures managed by non-lawyers to be licensed to deliver legal services.

The phrase Tesco Law has been bandied about for a while, but on current developments the one to watch is Cooperative Legal Services. You can joke about supermarkets and funeral services, but these people are deadly serious, and growing rapidly with a flexible and cost-effective service within their chosen areas that the public may well find attractive

The message is pretty clear. If you’re a solicitor still practising in Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells world, you are unlikely to survive.

....with public dialogue being a key part of any such event

And finally, acting as the representative arm of the solicitors profession remains the Law Society…who may currently be slightly embarrassed about the fact that a former member of its Council from 2009 to 2011, Frances Louise Brough, has been charged with 19 counts of fraud relating to her time on the Council, apparently, according to the Law Society Gazette, in relation to expenses irregularities.

The case continues – Ms Brough is reported as being on bail and due to return to the Westminster Magistrates Court in December.

The author is a City of London and City of Westminster guide, and former law firm partner, who runs walking tours in the City and in Westminster. See tabs for further details.