24 March 2023

Chair of the PLA, Dellah Gilbert's address to the PLA Annual Conference 2023

Chair of the PLA, Dellah Gilbert's address to the PLA Annual Conference 2023

Good morning, everyone. On behalf of the Exec Committee I wish you a warm welcome to the Spring Conference.

For the majority of you who dined last night, I hope you had a wonderful evening, managed to get some sleep and still have your voices. Mine feels an octave lower. 

We have a jam-packed conference today, with a plethora of fantastic speakers to educate and challenge us all – a programme skilfully put together as always by our Education and Training Committee. 

In advance of that I take this opportunity to update you on all matters PLA. It would be remiss of me not to give an update on the PLA’s vital statistics: we have 1608 actual or pending members (including honorary and academic members). Just under half of the membership are based in London and the Southeast, and the rest around the UK and Ireland. At our AGM in November, we welcomed new members to the Executive committee: Rebecca Campbell returned, but as the Honorary Secretary, Kate Andrews became Chair of the Education and Training Committee; Frances Richardson was confirmed as Chair of the now formalised Wellbeing Committee; and Tim Reid became Chair of the Website and Marketing Committee. Slightly more recently Paul Tonkin took over as Chair of the Law Reform Committee. In the regions, we also welcomed Matt Pugh as the new chair of the Northern Regional Committee and Emily van Schalkwyk as chair for the Southwest and South Wales.

At the AGM we also amended the PLA’s articles to formalise our wellbeing initiative and to add in diversity equity and inclusion. My objective this year is to concentrate on geographical inclusion, not least because over half of our members are located outside London and the Southeast. We want to increase the number of regional events per year, increase the participation of members from the regions in the running of the PLA and, hopefully (if logistics and funding permit), in 2025 move the Spring Conference to a more central area. Coping through Covid has shown that we no longer physically need to be in the same room in order to be in the same room. Many of our committee meetings are held by Zoom or Teams and so there is no longer a geographical barrier to those who wish to from joining a committee. I know that the Education and Training Committee, various regional committees (in particular East Anglia) are looking for recruits and more regional junior members would be welcomed. But there is no reason not to express an interest in any of the other committees so that you can be considered as and when a vacancy arises. Just email the chair of the committee you are interested in!

We would also welcome any ideas for future regional events. The next Regional Chairs meeting is on 24 April, so please contact your local chair.

With regard to diversity, I am pleased to report that the Executive Committee recently resolved that the PLA should lend its support to the Black Talent Charter, co-launched by Harry Matovu KC and Michael Eboda which aims to change the landscape for the recruitment and promotion of Black talent in the legal and financial sectors so as to increase significantly the representation of Black talent within the business community. I will be taking this important initiative forward in the coming weeks.

On a different note, Paul Tonkin and the Law Reform Committee has been keeping busy with our key* research project into the 1954 Act. Thank you to all who submitted responses – we had 136 in total which is a fantastic result. The LRC is busy analysing the responses and the results will be published in due course. We are arranging to meet our academics – Michael Healey, Emily Carroll and Jamie Lee to take this forward for deeper analysis with those who volunteered to speak with them and arranging separately to meet with the Levelling Up department and Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins to discuss further. Finally, we will be organising a forum to be chaired by Lizzie on a date to be confirmed.

We do have a few more surveys in the pipeline. One is on wellbeing, for which more from Frances Richardson later, but the other is a county court survey. Surprisingly (!) the PLA has been asked to revisit its county court survey from a few years ago, which as you may recall was pretty damning of the service. Perhaps they hope it has improved. Who knows! I know there is a risk of survey fatigue but your views are important and the PLA is now viewed as a key stakeholder in many areas. So do please respond if you can as and when the surveys are issued.

Hopefully by now you have all visited the PLA’s new website and are managing to navigate your way around and use the new payment function. It would be really useful if you would each take a moment to populate your profiles and add a photograph in the members section, in order to make the most of this valuable resource.

Finally, I turn to our annual competition, held in memory of one of our founders, Alan Langleben. Vivien King and Suzanne Lloyd Holt have kindly agreed to be our judges again.

We are keeping with the 500-word blog format but are changing a few things. First, we are doubling the prize money to £2000 and, secondly, are expanding the eligible entrants to include trainees, apprentices and paralegals who are involved in property litigation. The winning entry will also be published in the Estates Gazette. So please encourage them to enter.

The closing date will be towards the end of May 2023 and the result will be announced at the PLA/PBA Summer Party which is to take place on 5 July 2023.

The question is topical and is this:

“Has the recent Supreme Court decision in Fearn & Others v Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery opened the floodgates for claims in nuisance based on overlooking?

The competition is now officially open.

Post Conference addendum:

* and, in light of Government’s announcement on 27 March, extremely timely