The Law Society believes very strongly that the promotion of business and respect for human rights are mutually reinforcing. In 2013 the Law Society set up a Business and Human Rights Advisory Group to look at the issue of business and human rights in relation to the legal profession. In March 2014 the group produced a set of recommendations which can be found below.
Recommendation 1 – The Law Society should take the position that its law firm members have a responsibility to respect human rights and in accordance with the UNGPs, and that this should be reflected in firms' business operations, and as appropriate in advice that they provide to clients. This would include putting in place a human rights policy in line with the UNGPs.
Recommendation 2 – The Law Society should develop advice, guidance and training that address those issues relating to law firms arising from their business operations which are common to many businesses but that also addresses specific issues relating to law firms as providers of professional legal services.
Recommendation 3 – The Law Society should undertake further consultation to better understand the particular issues concerning in-house lawyers and small and medium size firms that arise with respect to implementation of the UNGPs prior to issuing any specific guidance regarding such lawyers. The Law Society must consult further to ensure that guidance can be tailored to meet the needs of different groups.
Recommendation 4 – The regulatory regime for solicitors does not present barriers to implementation of the UNGPs. The Law Society should encourage members to adopt appropriate human rights policies and due diligence procedures. The Law Society should undertake further work on areas such as: confidentiality, retainers, due diligence and what leverage means in the context of legal services provision, in order to be able to provide practical guidance to its members.
Recommendation 5 – It is recommended that the Law Society considers further; with appropriate input from relevant stakeholders, what issues arise for lawyers in relation to pillar 3 (access to remedy) and the Law Society’s role in providing appropriate guidance on these.
Recommendation 6 – The Law Society should encourage firms to develop policies and procedures to implement firms’ responsibility to respect human rights, which will be an evolving process. Law Society guidance needs to be practical, user friendly, and develop over time reflecting best practice. Initial guidance from the Law Society should include a template human rights policy commitment.
Recommendation 7 – Human rights guidance should be incorporated into or aligned with relevant existing Law Society guidance and policies to minimise additional compliance requirements and ensure consistency.
Recommendation 8 – The Law Society should continue to actively engage in developing and sharing best practice both domestically and internationally for the legal profession.
Recommendation 9 – The Law Society should recommend that the SRA incorporate business and human rights as an integral part of legal training requirements, and CPD.
Recommendation 10 – The Law Society should develop a programme of awareness raising activities on the UNGPs and the guidance they provide for implementing the responsibility of business to respect human rights.
Recommendation 11 – The Law Society should implement all recommendations included in this report by the end of 2014; and allocate sufficient resources in order to do so. Progress towards meeting this target should be reviewed on a bi-annual basis. Further consultations with a wider net of stakeholders should be included within this timetable.
For more information read the full report