by Hannah Gomersall (delegate)
This year, the Society of Labour Lawyers held an exciting programme of fringe events which brought in voices from across the legal profession and labour movement.
On Sunday night, we heard from Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (Shadow Solicitor General), Baroness Diane Hayter (Shadow Spokesperson for Exiting the EU), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society) and Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council) on “The Law and Brexit”, Chaired by Kate O’Rourke. It was clear from discussion that a great deal of work has already been done by the professional associations to highlight legal concerns which must be urgently addressed by the government before we exit the EU: from financial regulation, to environmental law, to child abduction. There is considerable expertise in these areas within our membership and also evident was an appetite from the labour front bench for our assistance on these legal issues however possible.
On Monday, SLL joined Lord Bach and the Fabians in launching the commission’s final report on Access to Justice. The event was well attended and audience members welcomed the commission’s recommendations as they recalled the effects LASPO has had on their own practices and experiences.
On Monday night, Young Labour Lawyers held a well-attended drinks reception on the topic of Wellbeing in the legal profession. We were lucky that many members of the shadow justice team were keen to join us to discuss the stresses placed on the profession at the moment, particularly in the area of legal aid work and young lawyers including those trying to access the profession.
On Tuesday, SLL held a joint event with Justice on the modernisation of the justice system. Speakers included Baroness Shami Chakrabarti (Shadow Attorney General), Richard Burgon (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice), Andrea Coomber (Director of JUSTICE), Christina Blacklaws (Vice President of the Law Society), Andrew Langdon QC (Chair of the Bar Council).
Questions from the audience suggested a number of ideas on how technology can be used to widen access to justice, although inevitably discussion returned to a court system presently at breaking point due to funding pressures.
As the Society of Labour Lawyers delegate at conference this year, I was proud to vote for an amendment proposed by the Jewish Labour Movement and adopted by the NEC to outlaw discrimination in all forms from our party. However, I felt that the quality of the conference floor debate on this issue was at times not a positive reflection of Labour values. Fortunately, the motion passed. Elsewhere, I was disappointed that delegates chose not to debate Brexit, the greatest issue currently facing the country (though it was at least a topic for discussion at numerous fringe events).
Although there were no timetabled floor debates on Access to justice, it’s fair to say the issue took centre stage at fringe events this year. At a timetabled Justice Policy Seminar for delegates, case study after case study was raised by delegates concerned about the devastation of family and immigration legal aid, prohibitively high court fees, and criminal and housing legal advice deserts. There was a renewed sense of purpose following the release of the Bach Commission’s final report on Access to Justice that the current situation is unsustainable, as well as an optimism that we could gather a cross-party consensus for an urgent and overdue review of LASPO.