Much has been said and written about democracy and democratic will recently. In the past two years in the UK, we have had a General Election and an EU Referendum. Both were, in different ways and for different purposes, an expression of ‘the will of the people’. Or were they? Democracy is a strange thing; and a Parliamentary democracy is stranger still.
On 17 March 2016, at the invitation of the President of The Law Society of England & Wales, I delivered the keynote speech to the Society’s annual conference on legal aid. The report of the speech published by the Law Society Gazette (interestingly dated three days before it was actually delivered…) contains significant misrepresentations of both its content and tone.
Not for the first time, messages that I have taken time to consider and articulate carefully have been distorted by a journalist and then published as views that I did not in fact express or intend. I am reminded of the late, great Eric Morecambe describing how he played the piano: “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. The Gazette report follows a similar pattern: some (though not all) of the right words, but out of context and not in the right order. Whether such distortions are deliberate or sloppy, I cannot tell; both undermine journalistic integrity.
For those who wish to read the real messages, in context, a full account is available here.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Sir David Clementi’s final report on the regulatory framework for legal services in England & Wales. How time flies! The report is still a good read, and a helpful reminder of what needed to change – and why.
The report laid the foundations for the Legal Services Act 2007 (even though the Act went further on alternative business structures than Sir David was willing to recommend). Its principal aims can be summarised as:
- creating the Legal Services Board and establishing the principle of regulation that is independent from professional representation
- improving the way in which – and the speed with which – complaints against legal services providers are handled, including setting up the Office for Legal Complaints and the Legal Ombudsman
- liberalising the business structures through which lawyers can operate by permitting ownership and investment by individuals who have not qualified as lawyers, and allowing legal businesses access to external capital.
All of these primary objectives have been achieved – more or less. So what now?