Barristers attack 'Mickey Mouse' plans for united profession

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The Independent Online

Solicitors are calling for the creation of a single profession of lawyers, leading to the abolition of barristers and ending 500 years of legal tradition.

Solicitors are calling for the creation of a single profession of lawyers, leading to the abolition of barristers and ending 500 years of legal tradition.

The move has infuriated the Bar, which represents 8,000 barristers, and has stolen the Government's thunder on reform of the legal profession.

Robert Sayer, President of the Law Society, will tell a conference of lawyers meeting in Disneyland Paris today that the Government must "think the unthinkable". He will recommend: "one legal profession, embracing lawyers of all types, not just solicitors but legal executives, licensed conveyancers and barristers ... No more solicitors or barristers - just lawyers."

He claims that the Bar (which represents barristers) provides lower standards of service than the Law Society, which represents solicitors. "The public deserves a basic minimum standard of care and consumer protection from whomever it buys a legal service." Mr Sayer says: "Why shouldn't those rules and regulations apply to everyone who supplies a legal service?"

The Bar has reacted angrily by describing the proposals as "a Mickey Mouse policy dreamt up in Disneyland". A spokesman for the Bar said: "The Law Society's recent record on self-regulation is at best mediocre and at worst alarming and does not warrant such an over-ambitious suggestion." He added that the proposals were neither in the public's interest or in the interests of justice.

The Government has already gone some way to level the playing field between barristers and the 80,000 qualified solicitors. Solicitors now have the right to appear in higher courts and barristers in some cases can conduct litigation.

But the Law Society, which acts as a trade union and regulator, is proposing a revolution in the provision of legal services, not a piecemeal change.

Mr Sayer, who set a five-year time frame for the change, will also attack the method of appointment of judges and QCs. Mr Sayer said: "What we have at the moment is effectively a self-selecting, self-cloning, self-perpetuating cabal of middle-class, white, male barristers."

The Law Society claims that 52 per cent of the senior judicial appointments come fromseven sets of barristers' chambers. Only one solicitor, the Law Society claims, has been appointed as a High Court judge in the last five years.

Mr Sayer said: "We live in a multicultural, multi-racial, multi-faceted society and yet we have a judiciary that is monochrome and one-dimensional."

Predictably the Law Society regards itself as the "obvious choice" to regulate and represent the new profession, embracing litigators, advocates, legal executives and licensed conveyancers. Mr Sayer said: "We form 90 per cent of the legal profession. Who's the tail and who's the dog?"

Yesterday the Lord Chancellor published his first annual report of judicial appointments which showed that out of 634 judicial posts filled by means of open competition 23.5 per cent went to women and 5.4 per cent to practitioners from the ethnic minorities.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine said: "The report reflects the fact that the proportions of female and ethnic minority appointments to the judiciary are higher than the proportionate numbers for those groups in the pool of lawyers with 20 years' legal practice, from whom appointments are made."