Our learned friend: No bar to properly qualified solicitors

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The Independent Culture
THE BAR has nothing to fear from competition. As I have said on many occasions, I do not oppose rights of audience for those who are properly trained, qualified and regulated.

Provided there is a level playing field, with proper safeguards to ensure quality and high standards, barristers have nothing to fear from fair competition from solicitors.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor's wish to work with the professions to develop a new framework and in paticular his recognition that lawyers seeking to exercise rights of audience in the higher courts would need additional training.

I have been working on a simple framework which provides the same rights of audience for all lawyers, barristers and solicitors who are properly qualified.

On qualification, all lawyers would have rights of audience to a certain level, but to acquire rights of audience in the higher courts one would have to acquire the appropriate experience or training.

I am in the process of establishing a high-powered committee to provide a constructive response to the Lord Chancellor's proposals and examine ways in which we can promote the highest possible standards across the profession.

I should say, however, that it is misleading to suggest that the Lord Chancellor's proposals will necessarily mean savings to the client because only one lawyer will be required. Any case which goes to court will still require preparation and presentation whether it is one, or two lawyers handling the case.

As far as the Crown Prosecution Service is concerned, I have two concerns. Firstly on practical grounds, at a time when the service already faces reorganisation it is not clear to me that it is sensible to be giving CPS lawyers additional tasks.

Secondly, as a matter of principle, I do oppose any changes which would substantially undermine the role of the independent advocate. In the last six months as Chairman, I have visited a number of countries that have state-run prosecutors. Anyone who has studied the American system would have concerns. There is a tendency there for a state prosecutor to become too determined to achieve a conviction at all costs.

The Lord Chancellor proposes that CPS lawyers should take on cases in the Crown Court when appropriate. The difficulty comes in defining when it would be appropriate. I fear a situation when the Treasury, seeking to impose further financial constraints, puts pressure on the CPS to use their in-house lawyers more and more, whatever their level of experience.

It cannot be in the public interest to send an inexperienced lawyer to court to prosecute a serious criminal simply because it is thought that it would save money.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor's commitment to promoting quality and his support for a strong, independent Bar. I also share his belief that the best advocates will continue to specialise as barristers and that quality and high standards are maintained.

Heather Hallett QC is chairman of the Bar Council