2013 was a seminal year for legal education with the publication of the Legal Education and Training Review. It also saw the unprecedented step of lawyers across the UK refusing to attend court in protest against Government policy, and some ground-breaking new laws.
The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) was a joint project between the Bar Standards Board, Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards. Its purpose was to review legal education in relation to regulated and non-regulated legal services in England and Wales. The long-awaited LETR report was published in June 2013. Key messages of the report focused on quality and competitiveness, flexibility (including new pathways to qualification), talent management, ethics, new ways of working (including increased focus on workplace learning and the use of technology to delivery education), and the challenges of legal regulation. Three key recommendations were that further research was needed into how the Foundations of Legal Knowledge (the core part of the LLB) should be balanced, that there should be consideration of whether any amendment to those subjects is needed, and that assessment of legal writing, research and reasoning skills should be an integral part of the LLB. As these are important changes it will take time for Law Schools (including the OU Law School) to implement them so there will be no immediate impact on current students.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force in April 2013 introducing substantial changes to the legal aid system in England and Wales, whilst in Scotland the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance (Scotland) Act 2013 introduced changes to criminal legal aid in Scotland. These changes to legal aid raised substantive concerns about access to justice and led to Scottish lawyers going on strike in 2013 followed by their counterparts in England and Wales in early January 2014.
The UK Parliament had a busy year passing 33 Acts, the most since 2010. Notable Acts include the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which provides for same sex couples to get married, the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 which provides that succession to the Crown does not depend on gender, the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act 2013 which gives the Secretary of State extensive spending power in relation to the preparation for HS2 and the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which includes changes to make the recruitment and operation of the judiciary more flexible and open to diversity. There was also extensive discussion surrounding the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill which is the UK Government response to the ECtHR judgment on prisoner voting.
The legislatures in the devolved nations were also busy. The Scottish Parliament passed 14 Acts, most notably those relating to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Scotland) Act 2013 which will replace Stamp Duty Land Tax in Scotland. The National Assembly for Wales made good use of its power to legislate (introduced by the Government of Wales Act 2006) by passing 7 Acts, including the landmark Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 which will make is easier for people to walk or cycle in Wales. The Northern Ireland Assembly passed 10 Acts, most notably the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2013. Also on constitutional note the date of Scottish Independence referendum was announced as 18th September 2014 and the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Future, its guide to what will happen if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ in the referendum. The Scottish Constitutional Futures Forum has provided extensive academic discussion on the issue of further devolution or independence for Scotland.
There were also some very interesting speeches by judges including Lady Hale on ‘What’s the point of human rights’, Lord Sumption on ‘The Limits of Law’, Lord Mance on ‘The Interface between National and European Law’ and Lord Neuberger on ‘Justice in an Age of Austerity’ as well as many high-profile cases, some setting important precedents or raising issues for further consideration. Also of interest was Prof. Alan Paterson’s lecture on the workings of the Supreme Court.
2013 set the foundations for what we will see in 2014 including potential change not only to the way legal education and training is delivered, but to how legal representation is provided and even potential change to the constitutional make-up of the UK. It will certainly be an interesting year.
Sources of further information / updates
Guardian Law http://www.theguardian.com/law
Times Law http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/
Law Society of England and Wales http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/
Law Society of Northern Ireland http://www.lawsoc-ni.org/
Law Society of Scotland http://www.lawscot.org.uk/
UK Court and Tribunal Service http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/hmcts
Northern Ireland Court and Tribunal Service http://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/pages/default.aspx
Scottish Court Service http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/
UK Supreme Court http://supremecourt.uk/
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council http://www.jcpc.uk/
UK Human Rights Blog http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/