Law in Action

Baroness Deech

In 2007 Parliament passed the Legal Services Act, which might – or might not – revolutionise the way lawyers work, especially barristers.  The law allows for, but does not insist on, barristers being able to enter partnership with solicitors, or with each other, instead of carrying on in the time honoured fashion as self employed.  I chair the Bar Standards Board which has the discretion to decide about barristers’ working structures, and after two years of deliberation, and listening to passionate pleas from one side and from the other, we decided to permit them to work in these partnerships.  The meeting was quite exhilarating; at last the Act is having an effect on that branch of the profession.  But we are not going the whole hog, to what is called “Tesco law”: one-stop shops combining barristers with, say, solicitors, surveyors, estate agents, accountants and so on, as we are still concerned about protecting the consumer properly in such a set up. Is this what consumers want and will it make legal advice more affordable?

I have also been lecturing at Gresham College on Lord Lester’s Cohabitation Bill, which ran out of time in the Lords in April.  For over 30 years as a law teacher I have been saying that women ought not and do not need to be kept by men, (or vice versa), save that of course children should be maintained (there is a law for that).  Floods of appreciative comments have come in, for the first time in my life – I seem to have caught the mood of the times, finally!

The state opening of Parliament is a wonderful occasion and I am a loyal follower of tradition.  But do the roads around the Palace of Westminster have to be closed for so many days by so many barriers, irritating pedestrians, motorists and tourists alike?  It is after all quite a short ceremony and a day of closure ought to be enough; any more than that is a gift to the republicans . . .

22 comments for “Law in Action

  1. Carl Holbrough
    23/11/2009 at 3:53 pm

    If the new policy of allowing Barristers into partnerships brings competition in terms of price structure it would be welcome. I have no first hand knowledge of pricing of Barristers but I have heard £1500 per day mentioned. If true, in comparison with a Lord at £86.50 per day this would seem a preferable profession. I do however understand there must be perks to add.

    For many the law is still out of range of pocket in a number of circumstances, it seems to be a question of one law for the rich and none for the poor. A poor man can still be the victim of libel or defamation and his life ruined but cannot afford legal recourse. I recently paid £300 for a 15 minute session and the solicitor reading 5-6 letters of evidence, it did not go further due to costs.

    The Cohabitation Bill sounds a Godsend. Equality at last ! Our laws seem so hypocritical as do the Government who preach equality and sending Mothers back to work. Then stating the man must keep the woman. If we`re to have equality it must be equal in all terms, financial and parental.

    Of course in actuality I don`t believe in equality, there is no such thing. We`re just different. I am not equal to a Lord or Lady. My wife is not equal to me, she cooks, cleans, looks after the kids etc., but I decorate, look after the cars, bring in the money, buy chocolates, flowers, open doors etc. You`ll note my list is longer, that`s because I`m not exactly sure what her list entails but I am grateful for her and what she does. We`re not equal because we all have our own set of skills, we`re different. They`re is however probably a better chance of her finding employment with her range rather than my limited muscular skills so things should equal out in the end. That is provided the Government don`t let women become worth less in the work environment.

    Any man married for any length of time will tell you we are far from equal. Women have all the power. 😉

    Regarding road closures. The only people not irritated on the capital`s roads and pavements are of the course the tourists. Baroness Deech is of course quite right, one day is enough.

  2. Adrian Kidney
    23/11/2009 at 5:07 pm

    Noble Baroness,

    It’s a nuisance, but then it’s no different from inauguration ceremonies and the like in republican states as the US. Ceremony would remain, monarchy or not.

  3. Marek
    23/11/2009 at 11:06 pm

    Baroness Deech

    Why is the legal system so painfully slow and expensive?

    As the chair of the Bar Standards Board presumably you represent the profession rather than the public. The system is not designed for fairness unless someone has huge amounts of money.

    Would it not be better if you considered yourself as someone who believed in fair play irrespective of their financial circumstances?

  4. Gareth Howell
    24/11/2009 at 10:36 am

    Baroness Deech,
    Carl’s comment about libel is an interesting one, to which there is no easy answer, I guess. Put up and shut up!

    I have my doubts about the value of Barrister and solicitor working together from the same office. There are so many illusory inducements
    to “go to law” that making the professions work more efficiently together may only increase the false inducements. The baroness is a lawyer, and proud of her profession.

    On a slightly different tack, but as an example of the perceived lack of integrity of the profession, I am reminded of Austen Mitchell’s campaign against overhiked (tacked and hiked!) prices for conveyancing, and the apparent monopoly thereof by solicitors. His private meber’s bill, which became act, I believe, worked for a while and then the profession got round it with licensing of conveyancers.

    I expect that is looking at the law from another side than the Baroness.

    With regard to Barristers there is curently a move to describe certain kinds of Barrister
    as “Barrister without right of audience”, which will again be a successful attempt to achieve restrictive trade practices.

    I have spent half a life time grappling with the restrictive trade practices of a lower
    profession, that of school teachers, and heaven knows, don’t they try!

    The same probably applies, with respect to the Baroness’ campaign, that the strengthened tie between solicitor and barrister, will make access to law so totally impenetrable without professional fees, that the enthusiastic amateur will be completely mortified by it.

  5. Gareth Howell
    24/11/2009 at 10:40 am

    Regarding the state opening, and the roads,
    if you don’t use the roads, you don’t notice
    that it is all shut.

    There are a number of parks and now, very effective walkways on the south bank, that I have always walked or cycled to the vicinity, on state opening days as well, and the traffic is not a problem!

    Again with respect to the baroness! Walk!

    Oh for a laughter emoticon.

    • baronessdeech
      27/11/2009 at 11:39 am

      The state opening – I certainly did walk, and even walking to the Peers’ Entrance was extremely difficult as there were fences up and a policeman checking passes to allow us to walk down a narrow pathway. As far as barristers are concerned, I and everyone would very much like to see them become and remain affordable. The cuts in legal aid have made the situation worse, and there are many barristers doing family and criminal legal work who earn very little indeed. We will have to wait and see whether new working structures bring the prices down in other general areas.

      • Croft
        28/11/2009 at 12:20 pm

        Legal Aid is certainly a mess. I see lots of firms, and the sole practitioners (the backbone of the old system) leaving criminal legal aid completely as it pays peanuts compared to commercial law. You can hardly blame them when, in its infinite wisdom, the government seems to keep squashing costs at the bottom end leading to increasing numbers of people not getting legal aid or representation for ‘minor’ matters while the a tiny number of complex cases swallow vast sums of money.

      • Senex
        29/11/2009 at 3:22 pm

        Baroness Deech: “As far as barristers are concerned, I and everyone would very much like to see them become and remain affordable.”

        Have you considered the implications of ‘affordable’ in your reply?

        There is an alternative that is well established in the US that of ‘pro bono publico’ (for the public good). How many hours per year do you give to such work given that a peer’s quintessential role in a second house is to protect people? How many barristers in the UK do you know that give some of their time in this way?

        Ref: Pro bono legal council: United States
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro_bono_publico

  6. Gareth Howell
    24/11/2009 at 10:46 am

    Scues me for three posts on this thread, but this may be the real problem, quote:

    Is this what consumers want and will it make legal advice more affordable?

    Thinking of the individual as a consumer at all. I shall avoid naming the shop that the baroness has done, and say that there are also ethical retailers. BUT there are also
    Anti-consumerists, who, whilst “anti” sounds slightly offensive,post 1990, are entirely law abiding people, with minds of their own!

  7. Jana
    25/11/2009 at 8:14 am

    “I chair the Bar Standards Board which has the discretion to decide about barristers’ working structures, and after two years of deliberation, and listening to passionate pleas from one side and from the other, we decided to permit them to work in these partnerships.”

    Yes, I think it does make sense to allow barristers to share income as well as expenses. Though, I have to admit, I have niggling doubts about the hard-out “corporatization” of chambers – however, I can’t justify this in more cogent terms, so I probably have no sensible objection.

    “But we are not going the whole hog, to what is called “Tesco law”: one-stop shops combining barristers with, say, solicitors, surveyors, estate agents, accountants and so on, as we are still concerned about protecting the consumer properly in such a set up. Is this what consumers want and will it make legal advice more affordable?”

    Good.

    Making these decisions cannot just be a question of pandering to what “consumers” want, or think they want. Clients come to a lawyer to get things done that they cannot do themselves, they also come when they are vulnerable, and they are also looking for a degree of security. Sometimes they have to be sent elsewhere to get the advice they need to be sure of the risks they are taking. In certain circumstances, “Tesco law” could also give insufficient protection to those at the sharp end of fiduciary duties too.

  8. Senex
    25/11/2009 at 4:51 pm

    Welcome to the blog!

    On the blog there is some consensus that Parliament produces far too many laws or acts. These acts have accompanying statutory instruments.

    In 1987 there were 2299
    In 1992 there were 3399
    In 2001 there were 4199

    Somewhere sandwiched in between these are regulations.

    Many are bound to ask what manner of society do we have that requires so many laws to be passed. What is driving this? Is it good for us? Perhaps you have an online link to metrics that analyse this?

    I define a criminal act as an expression of free will contrary to prescribed law or natural justice. Is it that our society expresses more and more free will and Parliament seeks to exert an ever-increasing control over it? Or are labour saving devices such as desktop computers and printers to blame?

    Parkinson’s law states: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. [1955 C. N. Parkinson in Economist 19 Nov. 635]

    It is now quite conceivable that in just existing we are all in some way breaking a law or a regulation at some point during the day. This is not helping respect for the law.

    Ref: Statutory Instruments
    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/L07.pdf
    UK Statutory Instruments and Explanatory Memorandum
    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/stat.htm

  9. Gareth Howell
    27/11/2009 at 11:35 am

    Senex asks:

    Parkinson’s law states: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

    This may equally apply to the criminal trades.

    How many of those Laws have criminal penalties for breaking them, and how many of those Laws are merely the rubber stamp on Bills which had little legal bite afterwards in any case?

    I always defer to Lord Woolf (crossbencher) in these matters, who asks whether, to keep the prison populations down, we should anticipate a more LawLESS society.

    My own feeling is that we should, and that we should take greater measures to avoid contact with the criminal law, by not putting ourselves in the way of people intent on upholding the ASS-like qualities of some of it.

    Eventually the debate, earlier this/last year, in which L Woolf made the comment about prison populations, decided that more prisons would have to be built, going above 80,000 for the first time.

    I live in an area of the West Country where there must be a prison population of several thousand, including young offenders, and for a short while a “prison ship”, and the mood of enthusiasm for locking people up, and the goodness of it, sometimes amazes me.

    In view of the large population increase in the last 15 years more prisons may be necessary, but not because society is more lawless, but because there is more society!

    • Senex
      29/11/2009 at 4:03 pm

      Gareth Howell: “I always defer to Lord Woolf (crossbencher) in these matters, who asks whether, to keep the prison populations down, we should anticipate a more LawLESS society.”

      Lord Woolf is noted for his ‘trade’ reforms and they underline his competency at law however if we are to accept what you say as literal and it is not paraphrased then it serves only to highlight his ignorance of that sector of society that represents the prison population.

      We are surrounded by people who through no fault of there own can only offer society, a strong back and willing hands. Often they have difficulty with literacy and live by their wits because society has no useful employment for them. It is inevitable that they fall prey to established criminals and in turn become criminals themselves. This relentless cycle creates an institutionalised dependency that gives them friends and a purpose in life, to return to prison upon release.

      I believe that people are inherently law abiding because their first experience of law is that set down by their parents and conformity is mandatory. When such regimes are weak then no respect for law is a predictable outcome. A quality family life is our best defence against a lawless society.

      • Carl Holbrough
        30/11/2009 at 12:21 am

        “I believe that people are inherently law abiding because their first experience of law is that set down by their parents and conformity is mandatory. When such regimes are weak then no respect for law is a predictable outcome. A quality family life is our best defence against a lawless society.”

        Parents have to take responsibility. Might I suggest in the case of schools that when children have detention, parents are called in too. This way it takes up parents time, they are then more likely to take note. Similar action for children wandering the streets late and alcohol useage.

  10. nickleaton
    27/11/2009 at 2:55 pm

    I agree. Why does the uk need more laws than New Zealand for example? Why does it need more debts? Why does it need more people to review laws than other countries?

    It is a clear example of Parkinson’s laws and of Patronage at work at the expense of the rest of us.

  11. Gareth Howell
    28/11/2009 at 3:12 pm

    Senex

    “Many are bound to ask what manner of society do we have that requires so many laws to be passed”

    Between the figures for 1987 and 2001 there was an increase in the population of about 8million people(?)

    That influx made us much more diverse in our ethnicity than ever before.

    It can surely not be said for “Law” that what provides for the population of say NZ of about 4m, would also be sufficient for the UK of 60 million?

    What is more the velocity of influx probably has an effect on the amount of new law needed. A reduction in the velocity might entail a reduction in the need for new Law.

    It’s not the only fact of need for more law.
    The argument for no more law than normal, is of course, an argument in favor of maintenance of civil liberties, which we are told,are being constantly eroded.

    The less living space everyman has, the more Law is required for his good order. Even Montesquieu would have remarked upon the same.

    • Senex
      29/11/2009 at 4:38 pm

      Have you considered the established maxim that ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defence in a court of law? It is like this because it is incumbent upon the individual to familiarise themselves with the law before embarking on any given action.

      However, we could ask the same of the legal profession and the judiciary in that, it is incumbent upon of them to know ALL law and not to create new laws because they are unable to find previous laws that are relevant. Hence, the Victorian need to have the best legal minds in the HoL as independent Law Lord Life peerages.

      When the HoL had the power to block Commons law it made them go back and look harder at existing laws to resolve a need. It is far too easy for the Commons to create new law because isn’t that the job description? If they are not making laws what would they do? Answer; go back to their principal job alongside those that they represent before returning to part time work in the Commons.

      It works for the TA why not MPs?

  12. Gareth Howell
    28/11/2009 at 6:30 pm

    “I certainly did walk, and even walking to the Peers’ Entrance was extremely difficult ”

    And dangerous at St Stephen’s too. I don’t actually like Lord Tom King (I know he will allow me to say so!) but the traffic outside the public entrance nearly got the better of him, on Thursday! Take care, especially when you have been thinking deeply.

    It is hard to know what to do about it at this time of year. It is a main ‘A’ road, is it not?

    I aquaplaned on a push bike in front of an accelerating bus on one occasion, but for the foresight and vision of an anonymous car driver would have ended up as dead meat…. squashed dead meat.

    g

  13. nickleaton
    29/11/2009 at 2:07 pm

    It can surely not be said for “Law” that what provides for the population of say NZ of about 4m, would also be sufficient for the UK of 60 million?

    That would mean that there are laws needed where more than 4 million people have to act in concert in order to break them.

    Given than laws aren’t repealed that often, then the number of laws passed should decrease over time.

    What laws do you need that just apply to immigrants and do not apply to people already living here?

    • Gareth Howell
      29/11/2009 at 5:31 pm

      “What laws do you need that just apply to immigrants and do not apply to people already living here?”

      I have a feeling that would be getting near to contrary to the law itself.

      I am only thinking of the number crunching and nothing else!

      Apologies for the comment about a Peer above. I intended to say that I did not like his opinions. Content is all important and personality should not matter at all.

      Perhaps there is more space for people to do what they want in NZ, so they need fewer laws.

      Tiny but heavily populated islands are surely far more regimented than ones which are not
      heavily populated, or are you going to make laws for Kangaroos?!

      It really is not fruitful to discuss, merely
      trying to make some sensible observations about the increase in the number of acts in the list provided above!

  14. nickleaton
    29/11/2009 at 11:37 pm

    What is more the velocity of influx probably has an effect on the amount of new law needed. A reduction in the velocity might entail a reduction in the need for new Law.

    I’m trying to get you to explain this comment.

    Why should an influx (imigration) mean that you need new laws?

    What is it about immigration that needs new laws because presumably its something about the immigrants that you think needs legistlation?

    What is it that they are doing that should be made illegal?

    Personally I’ve made my position clear. There is no need for more laws in a society with 4 million or 65 million.

    Perhaps you can tell me of a law that isn’t needed in NZ but is needed in the UK?

  15. 17/12/2009 at 11:33 am

    This is a really smart and well thought out blog. I think the quality of the writing is wonderful and well structured.

    I am looking to build a blog and have been researching family law blogs and I think yours is great and has given me lots to think about.

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