Crime lawyers slam Law Society for “ignoring” no-confidence vote

Criminal law solicitors have redoubled their attacks on the Law Society – ramping up calls for senior resignations – after slapping the organisation’s leadership with a vote of no confidence earlier this week. 

Liverpool-based lawyer James Parry – who led the revolt against Chancery Lane – said the society failed to meet its immediate post-vote promise to set out and communicate a revised approach to dealing with the Government over its proposed legal aid rate cuts. 

Parry told The Lawyer that despite saying they would “reach out” to him in the aftermath of the special general meeting (SGM) last Tuesday (17 December 2013), Chancery Lane officials had not been in touch. The society had also not responded to an open letter from Parry setting out his views of the ramifications of the no-confidence motion. 

In the letter to society president Nick Fluck and chief executive Des Hudson, Parry said: “The anger and disappointment of many of those present was made clear and was reflected in the vote.” 

The name partner of Liverpool firm Parry Welch Lacey went on to tell senior Chancery Lane officials that it was “clear that the Law Society has some bridges to build with many criminal practitioners if it is to regain their confidence and to effectively resist all that is proposed … [I]t would be helpful if the Law Society were to set out in detail how it intends to respond to the views expressed at that meeting to avoid the possibility for rumour and misunderstanding and to demonstrate that the Law Society has listened and learned from what was said.” 

The society said it had responded to Parry today. A spokesman commented: ”We have told him that we will fight the cuts, campaign more publicly, more vehemently and continue to push for more concessions for the benefit of our members.” He went on to say “in response to the views of members at the SGM, we are taking a hard look at how the society engages and communicates with its members”.

The one point on which the solicitor and Chancery Lane appear to agree is on the need of a profession-wide vote on the no-confidence motion. Chancery Lane has dismissed the move on cost grounds, saying it would add £80,000 to the £120,000 the body has already spent on the SGM. Chancery Lane said the £120,000 expenditure included catering, loss of revenue from commercial room hire bookings, audio-visual equipment and operating an electronic voting system.

For his part, Parry maintained there would be “no point” in polling all solicitors, as “it is obvious that a profession-wide vote would simply reflect the vote at the meeting”. Indeed, Parry suggested a profession-wide poll would be likely to result in an even bigger margin in favour of the no-confidence motion. 

Immediately following the meeting, Hudson suggested that criminal law specialist solicitors were not overwhelmingly opposed to Chancery Lane’s approach to the Ministry of Justice. He claimed that larger criminal law legal aid firms supported the society’s stance of “engagement” with ministers. 

However, Parry responded by pointing out that the only speakers against the no-confidence motion at the SGM were either Law Society council members or those affiliated closely to the Chancery Lane establishment.

“The society leadership might well take the view that the big firms do not agree with my position,” said Parry. “But if that is the case they certainly didn’t express it at the SGM and there were senior members of the Big Firms Group at the meeting.” 

Comments on The Lawyer website following the vote reflected mounting pressure on Fluck and Hudson to stand down as, according to many, they fail to maintain the confidence of a significant section of the profession. 

Wrote one commentator: “There are … few who have any confidence in the senior management of the Law Society at all. If the president of a rugby or cricket club suffered such a defeat, I have no doubt that their resignation would follow by return; have we now sunk to such depths that a no-confidence motion can be brushed off with such insouciance?”

Another sent a simple message to the leadership: “Resign.” 

Despite the loud cries for heads to roll, grassroot voices suggested Fluck and Hudson would resist calls to fall on their swords. Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association said it was “unlikely” the two would resign.

“It is very difficult to get an absolute consensus across the entire criminal law profession,” he said. “They will always be able to claim that they have at reasonable support from some of that group.” 

The Law Society’s 100-strong council issued a general statement following the no-confidence vote, saying: “We must increase our engagement with members at the same time as putting maximum pressure on the government so that the Lord Chancellor can be in no doubt of the damage his proposals will cause.” 

It continued: “There are lessons to be learned from [the SGM] debate and we will reflect on these developments. Ultimately, everyone at [the] SGM is seeking the same outcome in terms of securing a functioning, high-quality criminal justice system with a sustainable body of criminal law solicitors.”