10 November 2023

Blog from Dellah Gilbert, outgoing Chair of the PLA

Blog from Dellah Gilbert, outgoing Chair of the PLA

This November marks the completion of my one-year tenure as Chair of the PLA.

Having been a member of the PLA since it began, and having sat on various committees over the last eight years, as I reflect on this last year as Chair I’d like to celebrate the PLA’s incredibly important – yet often behind the scenes – role in campaigning for improvements in property law, the court service and a wide range of judicial matters for the benefit of the entire industry.

Established in 1995 and now with over 1,600 members across the UK and Ireland, the PLA is regularly invited to share our members’ views with bodies such as the Law Commission and Department for Levelling Up, actively helping to shape the industry and ensure a legal framework that functions efficiently for everyone in property.

Before concluding my tenure, I’d like to share the key issues facing real estate during my time as Chair, and how the PLA – which is run entirely by a fantastic team of property litigation professionals who voluntarily offer their time – has been working to address them.

Supporting commercial leasehold reform – the­ Landlord and Tenant Act 1954

In late 2022 the PLA conducted a study of your views of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 to establish its continuing fitness for purpose, exploring different aspects of commercial leases including security of tenure, the compensation system and alternative rent models.

Our findings, published in April this year, showed that PLA members – who represent landlords and tenants of all sizes from across the property sector – generally still believe the Act strikes a fair balance between owners and occupiers. However, there is an urgent need to streamline the process to enable economic growth with quicker, simpler and clearer rules to help UK businesses.

The findings were turned into a report to inform the government review of the Act, which hasn’t been updated since 2004 and which, in your view, needs reform.

There has also been a huge shift in the relationship between landlords and tenants in the decades since the Act was last updated, with shorter lease terms, harsher trading conditions, the digital revolution and wider changes in working and shopping practices all putting strains on the system.

We hope our independent report, based on your diverse opinions, will support the Law Commission and, in due course, policymakers as they review the Act. Our recommendations included the provision of guidance notes to narrow down issues of conflict at an early stage, as well as increased digitalisation and less time in courts.  

The Law Commission is expected to publish a consultation on the Act in December 2023 to which the PLA will formally respond, informed by insights from our member research.

Addressing delays within the court system

Continuing on the topic of supporting the wider legal framework, it’s no secret that the courts are facing severe funding pressures which, when set against a rise in the number of claims coming through their doors, have made delays inevitable.

In 2015, the PLA ran its first member survey on the effectiveness of the County Court system. The results were pretty conclusive, with almost 90% of respondents saying the system was not fit for purpose.

Off the back of the survey findings, we engaged with HM Court and Tribunals Service to try and find a way to improve things. At their request, we launched a further member survey on 24 October 2023 – the results of which we aim to share with HMCTS’s Civil Jurisdictional Public Engagement Group, which the PLA was recently invited to join.

Progressing Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Recognising the need to create a more diverse legal industry, the PLA became a supporter of the Black Talent Charter in May, which aims to significantly increase the recruitment and representation of black professionals in the UK business community.

The Charter represents an excellent framework for measuring progress and ensuring accountability, so if your firm hasn’t already, then I invite you to sign up.   

On 22 November, the PLA launches a new Diversity and Inclusion Committee to further support you with your own D&I journeys, which will initially prioritise efforts to improve ethnic minority representation, gender equality and social mobility in the industry, with scope to include other protected characteristics in future. 

We were delighted to receive 20 applications to join the committee, which included 15 ethnic minority candidates and 13 women from across the UK.

Law is traditionally a sector that’s been slow to change but I believe we urgently need to open up to more diverse talent and become much more representative of the society we serve. I know that D&I is also a priority for my successor, Mishcon de Reya real estate litigation partner Mark Reading, who is committed to taking this important work forward.

Supporting member wellbeing

Appreciating the pressure and stress that can accompany life in law, in 2023 we also conducted a short, anonymous wellbeing survey focusing on your experience over the last three years. The results will be compared against our 2019 pre-pandemic wellbeing survey and used to inform future member wellbeing events and support.

Spring Conference

As promised at the 2023 Spring Conference, the PLA has been investigating options for moving the Spring Conference in 2025 to a more central location. Having reviewed the multiple benefits which Keble College offers us, all in the same venue – including accommodation, lecture facilities and formal dining for 250 people – it proved impossible to replicate this package anywhere else without a significant increase in delegate ticket prices.  Additionally, we would risk losing the priority status that the PLA enjoys at Keble. With all this in mind, we concluded that the Spring Conference should remain at Keble for the time being. We will, of course, regularly review the position and would welcome any suggestions from our members.

All things considered, it’s been a busy year – but one in which real progress has been made across a number of different areas. During my eight years with the PLA, I have witnessed first-hand what’s possible when the industry comes together to work for change – as well as the enjoyment that comes with meeting new people along the way.

If you know a property litigator that hasn’t yet joined the PLA then I hope you’ll encourage them to sign up: they’ll receive a range of benefits including professional development and networking opportunities, plus the chance engage with legal peers and members of the Bar and the judiciary.

If you’d like to be more involved in the work of the PLA and an active part of the positive change described above, then reach out at admin@pla.org.uk. I can say from my own personal experience that the PLA is not only interesting, informative and inspiring – we really are stronger together!

Dellah Gilbert

PLA Chair, November 2023