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The legal landscape in the 00s: Technology, paranoia & economic crisis

02 Jun 2015
The turn of the millennium signalled a period of significant change for the practice of law. This ten year period saw the widespread adoption of the internet and smart phones, with irrevocable repercussions to the way we work and the way we communicate.

This decade also saw fundamentalism threaten the status quo in the Western world, culminating in war and fears over security. International unrest was followed by economic disaster, resulting in severe job losses within the profession - the fall out from which the sector is still recovering.

Marking our tenth anniversary of supporting legal careers, Sellick Partnership is taking a look back at how the legal sector has progressed in recent decades. Today, the years 2000 to 2009 are under the spotlight.

Technological overdrive

As the year 2000 drew closer, the prospect of a 'millenium bug' in the world's computer network started to circulate, resulting in widespread panic. Fortunately the impact was minimal, but as businesses and homes started to utilise computers more and more, awareness and fear of online threats increased.

In 2003 the Communications Act introduced the Office of Communications (Ofcom) as the new industry regulator for telecommunications and broadcasting. The brainchild of then Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, the legislation made it illegal to use other people's Wi-Fi broadband connections without seeking permission, as well as a series of further legal changes.

The Communications act would go on to significantly impact businesses and individuals alike in the UK. Social media sites Facebook and Twitter launched to the general public in the second half of the decade and the recent coverage of trolling and online abuse have been brought into the courts because of this act.

September Dossier

Outside of the advances in technology, the decade will also be remembered as a time of intense fears over security and the risk of Terrorism. The Terrorism Act of 2000 was followed swiftly by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, which was rushed through by the government one month after the events of 9/11. This response reflected the paranoia and fear which could be seen in the media and in the general public, but would have repercussions which would take a decade to be resolved.

The controversial Section 41 of the 2000 Act gave police powers to arrest and detain without charge for 48 hours. This has now been extended to 28 days. In addition new 'stop and search' powers without reasonable suspicion of terrorism offences were given to police. In 2009 it was found that the police conducted 100,000 searches which resulted in no arrests related to terrorism offences, but with over 500 arrests for other offences. In 2010 this was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights. The Act in 2001 also gave powers to communication services to retain data from their users, which could be used in the prevention of terrorism.

The significance of these and subsequent acts demonstrated the government placing far greater importance on security across many aspects of day-to-day life, but ultimately at the detriment of the public's privacy.

High society

The decade also saw a number of controversial subject matters affecting the upper echelons of society. Five years in the making the Hunting Act was finally passed in 2004, prohibiting the hunt and slaughter of foxes by dogs, marking the end to fifty years of dispute between the Countryside Alliance and animal rights groups. This wasn't without dispute, with pro-hunt campaigners actually entering the House of Commons during a debate to protest the bill, and launching several legal appeals after it was passed, but fox hunting was eventually made illegal in early 2005 and is still in force to date.

The tabloids also got their teeth into Max Mosley in the latter half of the decade, when eventually he won a court case against the News of the World, which had reported that he had been involved in a sex act that had Nazi connotations.

The following year, Mosley brought a case against the UK's privacy laws in the European Court of Human Rights, that would see newspapers forced to warn individuals before exposing details of their private lives, giving them the chance to seek a court injunction. However, Mosley's case was later rejected as it was argued such instances would have a serious impact on political reporting and a wider impact on serious journalism. This case would have repercussions in the next decade with high profile people taking advantage of the 'super-injunction', preventing stories about their private lives from hitting the front pages.

Crash, bang, wallop

The economic downtown of 2008 resulted in a crippling recession throughout the world and British austerity measure brought in to rectify overspending, continue to impact the public sector today.

However, the immediate impact was seen most keenly by property lawyers, many of whom were made redundant or forced to change specialism. Commercial and private property had been seen as areas for great career growth and affluence, but the collapsed housing market and lack of funding for commercial development meant that there simply wasn't enough work.

As a result, there is a nationwide lack of talent in this specialism, so when the housing boom occurred last year, organisations were forced to increase salaries and benefits in order to secure the best talent from a very shallow pool. In other cases less qualified personnel were brought into more senior roles, in order to meet demand.

Looking back

Overall, the 2000s were a time of great change, and the legal profession was forced to adapt to a new way of working, and cope through times of less than plenty.

The next blog in our series will look at the current state of play in the sector, and look ahead at what we think might be in store for us over the next decade. Alternatively, you can access our exclusive eBook which explores the key milestones in the legal landscape here.

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