Right of Reply: Heather Hallett

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The Chairman of the Bar Council replies to a leading article calling for legal deregulation

THE SUGGESTION that the world would be a better place if only there were more lawyers would make most people laugh, and I must admit that it causes me to sigh with disbelief, too.

But The Independent's honest suggestion in its leading article yesterday was that increasing lawyer numbers is the way to depress market prices for access to the law, and thereby enable the world and her husband to have their day in court.

A $10 a case public defence lawyer in the US is a lawyer who falls asleep on the job, insults his client and colludes with the prosecution to get a quick result. The evidence for this is chilling.

The fact is that the Law Society's own figures suggest solicitors' firms doing legal aid will be cut from 11,000 to 3,000 under the Irvine reforms.

Doom merchants have also suggested that the Bar will be cut in half as a result. We shall see. I believe that the public will demand good lawyers.

Most of us go to law only once or twice in our lives. We want our house purchase to be copper-bottomed, and our defence in court to be rock solid. No one benefits from being represented by a second-rate lawyer.

There has been lots of loose talk in the press about strangle-holds, monopolies and restrictive practices. But the fact is that the Bar is subject to competition from solicitor-advocates, whose standards are set by the Law Society. We are relaxed about competition. We are also keen to compete on price - the fees of an average barrister are well below those of a solicitor because of lower overheads.

But we shall not lower our professional standards, which are required in the public interest - that should be the primary purpose of professional self-regulation.