Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Innovation in the provision of legal advice

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Lawyers do not always get a good press. But an interesting paper, recentlypublished by the Human Rights Group JUSTICE (I declare an interest – I am a member of its Council), shows that there are many who still want to deliver legal services to the most disadvantaged people in our society.

In Innovations in personally-delivered advice: surveying the landscape the paper takes a look at how dedicated lawyers and others in the advice sector have sought to devise new ways of delivering advice to members of the public. The cuts to Legal Aid have not deterred them from wanting to provide a public service.

The importance of these services was stressed both in the Low Commission report in 2015, and the Bach report in 2017 – both of which called for their development. What the JUSTICE report shows is how, in a time of austerity, it is still possible to offer at least some services in new an innovative ways.

A number of important points emerge from the survey:

  1. First is that taking legal advice to places where those who might want that advice go might be more effective than expecting people to come into solicitors’ offices. Thus the report gives examples of outreach work being undertaken in doctors’ surgeries, foodbanks, prisons, ‘pop-up’ clinics in libraries, branches of Tesco, and university Law Clinics.
  2. Second, providers may need to consider new partnerships with both the private and charitable sectors to fund new initiatives. The report gives examples of new partnerships with the private sector (e.g. banks – offering advice on debt ) and the charitable sector (e.g. Dementia UK offering advice for dementia sufferers and carers). Moves towards greater corporate social responsibility may offer new opportunities for innovation.
  3. Thirdly, the report gives examples of advice providers taking advantage of the new rules on Alternative Business Structures to develop new ways of delivering face-to-fact advice services. For example, with Gateshead Enterprises’ Job Law, “the first consultation is free and any further advice required is on a ‘pay as you go’ basis”;  the chargeable advice is half price; and any profits are channelled directly back into Citizens Advice Gateshead to ensure it can continue its work.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive report on everything that is happening in the advice sector. But, given how easy it is to assume from the media that the cuts in legal aid and other sources of funding for the advice sector have almost destroyed the advice sector, I think it important to know that dedicated individuals continue try to deliver a service to those who most need such services. The examples given in this paper show that the green shoots of innovation are, if not yet flourishing, beginning to emerge from a very hard economic climate.

I hope the examples given here will inspire others to bring forward their own ideas and initiatives.

The JUSTICE report is available at


Written by lwtmp

March 6, 2018 at 5:19 pm

How diverse are law firms?

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One of the challenges facing the legal profession is trying to ensure that it offers opportunity to all. For the last four years, the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority has conducted surveys which seek to measure diversity in law firms. The most recent report was published in February 2018. While data for any one survey year may not reveal very much, the creation of comparable datasets over a period of years can reveal trends.

The survey looks at a number of characteristics to assess the extent to which law firms offer diversity in employment. This note reproduces and highlights some of the primary factors identified in the survey.

  1. Gender

Women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms compared with 47% on the overall UK workforce.

Looking at seniority, in 2017 women make up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners (though this is up from 31% in 2014).

In the largest firms (50 plus partners) 29% of partners are female. The proportion of female partners has risen steadily from 25% in 2014 to 29% in 2017.

There is a greater proportion of female lawyers in mid-size firms – women make up 54% of all lawyers in firms with six to nine partners and those with 10 to 50 partners. The highest proportion of female solicitors is in firms which have six to nine partners. In these firms, two thirds (66%) of solicitors are female and this has grown over the past four years (from 60% in 2014). Over a third of the partners in these mid-size firms are female (37%) and this has also grown from 31% in 2014.

There are variations by the type of legal work undertaken by firms. While overall women make up 48% of all lawyers, 52% of lawyers in firms mainly doing private client work are female, whereas 40% of lawyer in firms mainly doing criminal work are female.

  1. Ethnicity

There has been an increase in the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers working in law firms, now one in five lawyers. This is up 6%, from 14% in 2014 to 21% in 2017.

This increase is largely due to the rise in Asian lawyers in the profession, up from 9% in 2014 to 14% in 2017. Asian lawyers make up two thirds of all BAME lawyers.

Black lawyers make up 3%, which has risen by 1% since 2014 and now reflects those in employment in the UK (3%).

Unlike the profile for women, there is very little difference by seniority among BAME lawyers, 21% of solicitors are BAME compared to 20% of partners.

However, differences become apparent when the breakdown of partners in firms by size is considered. The largest firms (50 plus partners) have the lowest proportion of BAME partners – only 8% which has risen by 1% since 2014. This contrasts with one partner firms, where just over a third (34%) of partners are from a BAME background.

There are differences in the proportion of BAME lawyers according to the type of legal work undertaken by firms. Firms mainly doing criminal work and those mainly doing private client work both have a higher proportion of BAME lawyers, 33 and 37% respectively. Firms doing a mixed range of work and firms doing mainly corporate work both have the lowest proportion of BAME lawyers, 12 and 19% respectively. 

  1. Social Mobility

The survey used attendance at a fee paying school and whether someone was the first in their generation to attend university, as a proxy for social mobility in this survey.

  • Attendance at fee paying schools

There is a significant gap between lawyers and the general population. 22% of all lawyers attended fee paying schools, compared with 7% in the general population. There has been no change since 2015, though the proportion of lawyers attending fee paying school fell by 4% between 2014 and 2015.

There is a difference between partners (24%) and solicitors (20%) who went to fee paying schools. The proportion of partners from fee paying schools in the largest firms (with 50 plus partners) has fallen from 43% to 36% since 2014

The firms which mainly do corporate law have the lowest proportion of state educated solicitors at 56%. Three quarters of solicitors in firms doing mainly criminal and litigation work are state educated (77 and 76% respectively) compared to just over half in corporate firms (56%).

  •  First generation in the family to attend university

In contrast, there is a higher proportion of partners who were the first generation in their family to attend university (59%), compared to 49% of solicitors.

The proportion of partners who were the first generation to attend university is highest within the smallest firms and this decreases with size of firm. This ranges from 63% of partners in one partner firms, to 52% in firms with 50 plus partners.

Only 5% of lawyers did not attend university at all. This has fallen since 2014, when 7% did not attend university.

The principal conclusion to be drawn from these data is that while some increase in diversity can be seen, the legal profession can and should still do more.

Full details of the survey and its findings are at

Written by lwtmp

March 3, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Understanding the SQE and what it means for me | The University of Law

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Excellent summary of pending changes to the route to qualification for solicitors. Further postings will appear as details become clearer and timelines are settled

Source: Understanding the SQE and what it means for me | The University of Law

Written by lwtmp

February 26, 2018 at 11:26 am

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Practitioners and academics: new alliances

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In my book Introduction to the English Legal System, I argue that legal academics play an important role in the development of our understanding of the law and that their role should be given more recognition than it sometimes has had in the past. (See Chapter 9, section 9.10).

Recently, however, my interest has been stimulated by stories in the professional legal press concerning a rather different collaboration between the world of legal practice and the academic world.

A number of firms, particularly those engaged in personal injury litigation, have been working with academic statisticians  and ‘decision scientists’ to try to understand what are the variables that are in play when litigation is under consideration and thus trying to understand better the risks of taking particular cases on and to predict better the potential outcome of issues that are being litigated. This may help practitioners to decide whether a case should settle, or be fought through to trial.

The firms concerned think this may be beneficial both for small value large volume groups of claims, as well as high value claims. One finding that has emerged from this work is that the models that are being used  suggest that the upper level of the Judicial College Guidelines on damages for different types of injury is almost irrelevant in most cases.

It is possible that this approach might also be used by the Courts and Tribunals service to analyse cases that pass through the courts. It might help, for example, in making determinations on which cases might be suitable for the small claims track or the fast track in the allocation of civil disputes in the county court – a possibility hinted at by Sir Ernest Ryder in a recent speech where he said:

Digitisation will, if we are sensible, provide us with the opportunity to gather data on the operation of our justice systems in ways that we have often been unable to before. It provides us with the opportunity to make our justice systems more adaptive; but again, only after proper scrutiny and discussion.

It seems to me that these initiatives will grow in number in the near future. What will be needed is proper evaluation of these tools to see whether they do in fact assist in both legal and judicial practice, and how they might be developed.

For press reports on these initiatives see; and

Sir Ernest Ryder’s speech is at


Going digital – piloting video hearings

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The Transforming our Justice System reform programme has flagged the possibility of much more use of digital technology in the processing and handling of disputes. Following the announcement at the beginning of February 2018 that it is now possible to start divorce proceedings on-line (see this blog for 2 Feb 2018), we now have a new announcement about how cases might be heard using new technologies

This development, announced on 15 February 2018, concerns the piloting of video hearings in the Tax Tribunal. This initiative will be rolled out in a measured way, with potential participants being asked whether they would like their cases to be dealt with on-line.

It seems that the Tax Tribunal has been chosen for this experiment as it is presumed that many tax cases turn on rather complex points of law, rather than major disputes on questions of fact which might require the presence of parties in the same room.

This new announcement builds on another pilot, which ran in the autumn of 2017 in which a number of case management hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber were dealt with through video hearings. The results of these seem to have been very positive and demonstrate that such issues can be dealt with more efficiently on-line without compromising standards of justice.

HMCTS do seem to be taking a measured approach to these developments, wanting to bring all those involved – judges, practitioners and litigants – with them, to ensure that these developments do meet user needs.

Further announcements will emerge in the months ahead.

To read more about the video Tax Hearing pilot, see

For the HMCTS blog on these developments go to



Written by lwtmp

February 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

Family justice: reforming public law case procedures

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Hot on the heels of the announcement of on-line divorce applications (see this blog Feb 2 2018), information has just been published as a blog from HMCTS on developments relating to the digitalisation of procedures relating to public law childrens’ cases.

Emma Petty, Service Manager for the Public Law project, writes:

We want to make the public law process more efficient, ensuring the court, parties and their representatives have access to the right information at the right time to help decide the best outcomes for children involved in public law cases. Based on our early thinking, the aims of the project could be to:

  • provide an online application process which speeds up the gatekeeping process and shares information with partner agencies at the point of submission
  • improve the process for dealing with urgent applications
  • enable users to see the progress of their case and to take action to progress their case online
  • provide clear signposting to support available outside HMCTS, to assist parties acting in person and without a lawyer
  • enable users to upload and access documents and evidence digitally both outside and inside the courtroom
  • ensure suitable facilities and support are provided at hearing centres
  • enable hearings, where appropriate, to be conducted online
  • provide fast digital access to outcomes of hearings
  • ensure those who need it get the support they need to access our digital services.

Over coming months, the Public Law Project team will be working with practitioners and others involved in these types of case in developing practices and procedures to deliver these goals. This is an important development within the scope of the Transformation of the Justice System policy.

Further detail is at

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Controlling trolling? A job for the Law Commission

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Although the Law Commission’s 13th Programme of Work was announced only in December 2017, the Commission has already had those plans amended by the Government asking whether changes to the law are needed to ensure that internet trolling can be controlled. More specifically the government has asked the Law Commission to review the laws around offensive communications and assess whether they provide the right protection to victims online.

This is a serious problem. Research shows that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying in 2017.The Commission will  review  the current laws and set out how they apply to online communications. Its work be informed by developing Government policy in the Government Digital Charter. (See published in January 2018.)

Among issues to be addressed are the following:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with offensive online communications

  • How the Communications Act 2003 deals with online communications

  • What “grossly offensive” means and whether that poses difficulties in legal certainty

  • Whether the law means you need to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications

  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused, such as the meaning of “sender”

  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

It is intended that thw work should be undertaken swiftly. A consultation paper is expected within 6 months.

For further detail see


Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 11:51 am