Labour and lawyers: LLPs and associate prosecutors to the fore

Sir Keir Starmer launches the Labour manifesto

Law firms that are limited liability partnerships (LLPs) are facing major change under Labour Party plans to give their members new legal rights, including to bring claims of unfair dismissal.

The party’s election manifesto, published yesterday, was light on content with direct impact on the legal profession, with plans to widen the role of lay prosecutors at the Crown Prosecution Service one of the few.

It did commit to implement Labour’s ‘New deal for working people’ rapidly by introducing legislation within the first 100 days of entering government.

This includes introducing “basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal”.

The New Deal, the more detailed final version of which was published last month, promises to end the “three-tier system for employment status”, with people classified as employees, self-employed or workers. LLP members are generally categorised as workers.

This framework “often fails to provide clarity for workers and business” and “has contributed to the rise of bogus self-employment, with some employers exploiting the complexity of the UK’s framework to deny people their legal rights”.

It continued: “The complexity has meant businesses and workers are reliant on lengthy legal processes to resolve issues. Therefore, we will move towards a single status of worker and transition towards a simpler two-part framework for employment status.

“We will consult in detail on a simpler framework that differentiates between workers and the genuinely self-employed.”

Fox and Partners, a specialist employment and partnership law firm in the City, said in a briefing that extending employee rights to all workers could have “significant tax and other, possibly unintended, implications”.

It explained: “These measures would see workers entitled to greater rights than they currently enjoy… Some businesses, including in the LLP space, may need to alter their business-models as a result…

“Under current measures, [LLP] members do not have unfair dismissal protection. This would be a major change for law firms and other professional services firms.”

Other elements of the New Deal include making flexible working the default from day one for all workers except where “not reasonably feasible”, making it unlawful to dismiss a woman who is pregnant for six months after her return except in specific circumstances, and doubling the period in which an employment tribunal claim can be brought to six months.

It also commits to introducing a ‘right to switch off’, which could give employees the right to refuse contact from their employer outside of office hours.

Fox and Partners said: “This measure needs further clarification and risks being ignored. Employers in industries that operate on the expectation that staff work outside traditional office hours, such as investment banking and professional services, may also ask their workers to opt out of the scheme entirely.”

The Labour manifesto only mentions legal aid in the context of extending it to victims of disasters or “state-related deaths”. This will cost £30m, paid for by some of the revenue raised from closing the carried interest tax “loophole”.

Labour described the criminal justice system as “broken” and said that, as “an initial step to address the courts backlog”, it would expand the role of associate prosecutors (APs), a policy it first floated in 2022.

APs are specially trained lay employees of the Crown Prosecution Service, with level 1 APs permitted by law to conduct uncontested cases in the magistrates’ courts, and level 2 APs able to conduct specified contested hearings, up to and including trials of summary-only non-imprisonable offences.

They are regulated by CILEx Regulation, although this would shift to the Solicitors Regulation Authority under the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ plan to change regulator.

Other pledges included:

  • Fast-tracking rape cases and having specialist courts at every Crown Court location in England and Wales. Appointing legal advocates to provide free legal advice and support to rape survivors from the moment of report to trial in every police force area will cost £5m, paid for by redirecting police and crime commissioner grants for victims’ services;
  • Strengthening “the rights and protections available to women in co-habiting couples, as well as for whistleblowers in the workplace, including on sexual harassment”;
  • A review of sentencing “to ensure it is brought up to date”;
  • Introducing a ‘Hillsborough Law’, placing a legal duty of candour on public servants and authorities,
  • Creating a Regulatory Innovation Office to help regulators “update regulation, speed up approval timelines, and co-ordinate issues that span existing boundaries”;
  • Abolishing section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and extending ‘Awaab’s Law’ to the private sector;
  • Enacting Law Commission proposals on leasehold enfranchisement, right to manage and commonhold, and banning new leasehold flats and ensuring commonhold is the default tenure;
  • Replacing the “broken” apprenticeships levy with “a flexible growth and skills levy”;
  • Enacting the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act 2010
  • Introducing a Race Equality Act to enshrine in law the full right to equal pay for Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority people, “strengthen protections against dual discrimination and root out other racial inequalities”; and
  • Introducing the full right to equal pay for disabled people, as well as disability and ethnicity pay gap reporting for large employers.

The manifesto also states that “Britain will unequivocally remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

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