Criminal law solicitors remain undeterred in their bid to oust the Law Society leadership over its dealings with ministers regarding proposed legal aid rate cuts – despite Chancery Lane’s bid to placate specialists with an 11th hour meeting with ministers on Wednesday.
The Liverpool-based solicitor behind a petition for a vote of no confidence in the society’s president and chief executive told The Lawyer he still had “profound concerns over the way in which the Law Society entered into discussions with the government. They should never have made the concessions that they have done”.
James Parry of Parry Welch Lacey maintains Chancery Lane should have adopted a more robust and aggressive stance with ministers, propounding the view that the cuts were entirely unnecessary and that any consolidation of criminal legal aid provision would be unworkable.
Parry acknowledged that the society has been on a charm offensive since he forced the no confidence vote last week. He maintained that society president Nick Fluck had e-mailed the senior partners of all those who had signed the no confidence petition, offering face-to-face discussions to make Chancery Lane’s case.
“They are clearly worried about the effect of this debate on the Law Society and its leadership,” said Parry.
Yesterday’s meeting at Chancery Lane brought together practitioner group leaders with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, his legal aid minister Shailesh Vara and Ministry of Justice officials. A lawyer at the talks said the solicitors expressed “loudly and clearly their anger”.
Said the lawyer: “The core messages were no to cuts, no to flat fees for police station work and for guilty pleas, no to consolidation and concern over advice deserts.” However, the practitioner emphasised that it was impossible to know whether the ministers came with a genuine desire to compromise or “whether they were just engaged in a box-ticking exercise”.
A Law Society spokesman said the meeting was arranged “for criminal practitioners from a range of firm sizes, specialist practitioner groups and regions … [and that it] was conducted in a polite manner despite views being expressed passionately by all present. It was valuable for Chris Grayling to hear directly the potential impact of his proposals, and for him to explain the budgetary constraints facing his department. He promised to consider all the representations which were put to him.”
Those present had mixed views as to whether the meeting signalled a change approach from Chancery Lane that would save its leaders from losing the confidence vote. “Arranging that meeting on its own will not be enough,” said one crime specialist solicitor. “But there are potentially initiatives in the pipeline from the society that will have a greater effect.”
And there is certainly not unanimous backing for the no confidence vote. One lawyer at the meeting described the motion as “misconceived”. The lawyer continued: “I’m not sure what it would achieve if it passed. Even if the society’s leadership resigned, I’m not sure that would be a very helpful outcome.”
Regardless, Parry remains confident that he has overwhelming grassroots support for his no confidence motion. “Since it was lodged, I’ve had countless people contacting me saying they would have been happy to sign it and will support it when the motion comes to a vote.”
Chancery Lane has until Monday (18 November) to announce the date of the SGM; according to the society, the meeting itself must be held between 17 December and 14 January. If the motion passes at the SGM, it is likely that a no confidence vote would be put to a profession-wide postal ballot.