I intend to continue my presidential year at the helm of the Law Society of England and Wales as it has started – at full throttle.
Important events are coming up in the months ahead. We will be celebrating the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta, a document Thomas Bingham called “the Rule of Law in embryo”. The Global Law Summit will be held in London in February 2015 and the Commonwealth Law Conference in Glasgow in April 2015. These events will be an incredible opportunity to showcase the exceptional expertise of our profession to the world. We will also commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War, a tragic breakdown of diplomacy. We will remember the fallen including the 565 solicitors and 341 articled clerks whose names are listed in the War memorial of the Reading Room in Chancery Lane.
I also expect the lead-up to the General Elections of May 2015 to take up my time. The Law Society of England and Wales will shortly publish its own Manifesto, listing the Justice issues that we consider must be considered by any incoming Government. In our Manifesto, we will highlight the importance of the provision of legal aid in guaranteeing effective access to Justice for all. Indeed, I have made access to Justice the key priority of my presidential year. On 8 September, I will launch our first ever “Access to Justice” day, a new campaign to promote this very important issue.
With so many plates spinning, it would be easy, albeit a fatal mistake, to forget the European Union dimension. This is a mistake I will not make.
The European elections took place on 22-25 May this year. I am pleased that three solicitors, Timothy Kirkhope MEP, Sajjad Karim MEP and Ashley Fox MEP were re-elected and two more solicitors, Lucy Anderson MEP and Afzal Khan MEP, were elected for the first time. This is a sign of the strength of our profession. I send them my congratulations and wish them all the best for the next 5 years in the European Parliament.
The Law Society of England and Wales published our EU Manifesto setting our priorities at a European level for 2014 – 2019. Much like my overarching plan, access to justice featured heavily. The work on the EU roadmap, more specifically on procedural rights in criminal proceedings, is extremely valuable and we can only encourage the EU institutions as well as the Member States to be more ambitious on the right to legal aid for those who cannot afford legal advice.
Civil justice is as important and work should continue or resume on the service of proceedings; establishing effective collective redress mechanisms on the part of individuals and SMEs, in particular, and on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (Brussels I recast regulation and the necessity to update the Lugano Convention accordingly).
As the EU institutional puzzle in Brussels slowly falls into place, with the next steps being the appointment of Commissioners within respective portfolios of responsibilities, I was comforted by some of the commitments the new Commission President – Jean-Claude Juncker took on Justice issues in front of MEPs in Strasbourg on 15 July 2014. These include inter alia the intention to entrust a Commissioner with specific responsibility for the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law, accession of the Union to the European Convention of Human Rights and a proposal for a Directive against all forms of discrimination.
Needless to say, the Law Society of England and Wales will continue to input into the EU legislative process and strive to make access to justice a reality for all - at home and throughout the EU.
Andrew Caplen, President of the Law Society of England and Wales