A challenge to Mears
3 May 1996
Martin Mears' remarks in his article in last week's The Lawyer, to the effect that one of the working parties set up under his initiative is "achieving nothing at all", cannot go unchallenged. This appears to be a reference to the working party on entry to the profession which the president invited me to join.
Having voted for Mr Mears in last year's Law Society election I do not think that I can be described as one of the "declared political opponents" which he claims were inserted into his working party. Along with many members of the profession I share his views on a number of issues.
The working party's terms of reference were to consider the desirability of reducing the number of entrants to the profession and, if so, to devise ways of achieving this.
It was clear at a very early stage (and was subsequently confirmed by leading counsel) that there were almost insuperable legal obstacles to the introduction of any change in the training regulations if these were designed to impose a limit on the numbers entering the profession. The Solicitors Act 1974 contains no powers that would enable the Law Society to achieve this. Even if it had such powers it is very unlikely that approval to changes in the qualification regulations could be obtained from the Lord Chancellor under the Courts and Legal Services Act machinery. The Director General of Fair Trading in particular would have had strong objections on competition grounds as he did in relation to the Bar's attempt to limit numbers.
The working party went on to consider instead the feasibility of raising standards by the introduction of an aptitude test as a condition of entry to LPC courses which would have helped reduce numbers.
A draft report was circulated to working party members in January with the intention of submitting this to the full council at its meeting on 25 January. Four of the 12 working party members (including myself) dissented from the interim report. I disagreed on the grounds that the working party was going outside its remit in seeking to impose a quota via the back door. In addition, it was apparent by then that the numbers seeking entry to the profession were coming into line with the number of training contracts available.
Instead of referring the interim report together with the notes of dissent to the full council it was withheld...on the basis that there were "some issues that require further discussion by the full working party before a report can be made to the council" (director of professional standards and development's letter to working party members, 19 January). The letter indicated that a further working party meeting would be arranged shortly. No such meeting has yet been arranged.
One can perhaps understand Mr Mears' reluctance to accept advice that would have the effect of ending his much publicised aim of driving down the numbers seeking to enter the profession and the likely embarrassment of allowing his achievements on this issue to be judged by the profession. That should not, however, prevent a proper report of the working party's deliberations going to the council for its consideration before further time and resources are spent on this issue.
Stitt & Co
4 Paper Buildings,
London EC4Y 7HA.
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