Law: Lord Irvine says the Bar's open

The Lord Chancellor's reforms promise upheaval but equality for the profession

IT MAY not be as popular as either the World Cup or Wimbledon, but it seems that barracking and baiting barristers has been occupying the time of the Lord Chancellor and the media.

First it was the furore over the level of QCs' fees which led to an inquiry before five law lords in the House of Lords last week. Then the questions asked in the House of Commons by MP and solicitor Andrew Dismore on the propriety of Lord Neill QC being offered (and declining) the brief of Dame Shirley Porter in the appeal in the Westminster Council gerrymandering case. Barristers have never been so much on the defensive - and for their own cause.

But there is a greater threat to the Bar and its future. At present, barristers have a near monopoly to appear in cases heard in the higher courts in England and Wales. But all this will change if the reforms proposed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, in his consultation paper on the reform of rights of audience, are given the go-ahead.

In short, under the consultation paper published yesterday entitled Rights of Audience and Rights to Conduct Litigation in England & Wales: The Way Ahead, the Government's aims are to ensure that all qualified barristers and solicitors, including lawyers, can appear in the higher courts, provided that they have satisfied the appropriate criteria, and also to simplify the approval process for those extended rights of audience.

At present, 90 per cent of barristers and solicitors are excluded from appearing in the higher courts. This includes nearly all solicitors, as well as lawyers directly employed by Government departments, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), local authorities or in business. Only barristers in private practice and a few solicitor-advocates are allowed in.

As an indication of the possible impact of the proposed changes, there are over 71,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales, and 624 solicitor- advocates (about 90 of whom are in the CPS), and about 9,000 barristers in private practice.

The fear for the Bar is that competition in the courts will be overwhelming, and the possible result will be an exodus from law firms and the CPS.

Lord Irvine said: "Change is long overdue. The perception has grown that the legal system is dominated by the interests of lawyers, rather than by the need to provide justice for the people.

"I have one clear aim: the establishment of a modern and fair system which will promote quality and choice for those who need the help of an advocate while, at the same time, providing value for money. Antiquated restrictions on which lawyers can appear in the higher courts, which force people to pay for two lawyers in cases where one would do, can have no place in this new system."

These radical proposals are not entirely unexpected. Behind the shake- up is the underlying message that both the Bar and solicitors face an unprecedented period of upheaval, not only in how the profession is paid from the public purse, but also in how legal services are delivered generally.

Geoff Hoon, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department has already reinforced the Government line when he said that the Government's approach to legal reform is not `Will this harm the Bar?' but `Will it help more people?'.

But as with most things legal, the devil is in the detail. Following the consultation period, legislation will be needed to amend current statutes and establish new bodies to deal with the changes, including a Legal Services Consultative Panel, which will replace the current Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct.

Perhaps the most interesting proposal in the paper is that the Lord Chancellor "could be given the power to abolish any lawyers' professional rule which was held to be anti-competitive or restrictive of rights of audience and if necessary to replace it with a rule drafted by the Lord Chancellor in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rules, the President of the Family Division and the Vice-Chancellor". This proposal seems to be in line with the view that if Lord Irvine is to get his reforms through, he will need to win the support of the judges.

In case the profession feels that their interests are not being taken account of, the Lord Chancellor has stressed that although it is important that opening up rights of audience has the support of the profession and the judiciary, "liberalisation is in the public interest".

But he has confirmed that he wishes to proceed by agreement with the professions. For any in the profession (and other interested parties) who feel that the LCD has not been sufficiently "open" about consultation on the proposals, they can access the consultation paper and contact the Lord Chancellor at the appropriately titled address on the Internet: http://www.open.gov.uk/lcd/index.htm.

The consultation period will end on 14 September 1998.

But What Do the Professionals Think?

Mark Humphries, solicitor advocate and partner at City law firm Linklaters & Paines

"This is an extremely positive step. At Linklaters and similar firms, this is what we anticipated about a decade ago and have been planning for. The major law firms have vast resources of solicitors who until now have been thwarted in their attempts to provide a full service to their clients. The consultation paper suggests that within a short time, it will be possible to offer a fully integrated litigation and advocacy service to clients, that is both beneficial to clients and to lawyers."

Barbara Mills, Director of Public Prosecutions

"I am extremely pleased with this announcement not only for the CPS but for all employed lawyers. We have been fighting for rights of audience for a very long time now. I am delighted to see that finally we will see CPS solicitors and barristers in the Crown Court. It is a great opportunity for the CPS, creating greater choice and competition in Crown Court advocacy."

Vicki Chapman, head of policy at the Legal Action Group

"This is excellent - if long overdue - news for consumers for two reasons: firstly, in many cases, it will be more appropriate for a solicitor who knows the case in detail to present it rather than handing it over to someone who may only see it the night before it goes to court. And the consumer will not be paying for two people. But this should not be seen as a backdoor way of cutting funds - where a specialist advocate is needed, legal aid should still be available.

Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn