Thaw in frosty links with Labour and the profession

FROSTY relations between Labour and the legal profession appear to be thawing following an amicable fringe Law Society meeting at the Labour Party conference and a well-received speech by the shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, at the Bar conference.

In a show of mutual respect at the Law Society meeting on legal aid at Labour's Blackpool conference, shadow treasury minister Mike O'Brien thanked the Law Society for its “constructive and useful suggestions” on how cuts in legal aid could be made.

He said they were “a sound basis from which negotiations can proceed”.

And a few days earlier, at the Bar Conference in London, Lord Irvine received a long ovation after he described the Government's proposed legal aid reforms as “substantially a dead letter”.

At Blackpool, Law Society vice-president Phillip Syc amore, who had seen a copy of Lord Irvine's speech, attacked the Conservatives' planned “draconian” legal aid reforms. but he said that he agreed with Labour that taxpayers could not be expected to continue to fund legal aid at current levels unless its broader public benefits could be demonstrated.

At a fringe meeting on the dangers of exposure to asbestos, hosted by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Adrian Budgen, the solicitor who represented June Hancock in her successful battle to gain compensation from an asbestos manufacturer, warned that thousands of people were still being exposed to asbestos dust.

Budgen called for legislative reforms to prevent further exposure and to make it easier for victims to prosecute the employers or the companies responsible.

Labour's shadow energy minister, John Battle, said that the party was sympathetic to these calls.

In particular, he said legislating to create a central register of companies' employers liability insurers would be relatively easy.