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ADVICE to the Lord Chancellor that employed patent agents should receive rights of audience in the higher courts but employed lawyers should not, has left the treasurer of the in-house commercial barristers group "extremely perplexed".
Last month, the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) responded positively to an application by the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents for rights to appear in the Chancery Division.
In its official advice on the application to the Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, Aclec said that the application was of "considerable merit", adding that it "did not envisage that any problem would arise" for employed patent agents.
Mark Engelman, treasurer of the Bar Association of Commerce Finance and Industry (Bacfi), pointed out that Aclec had advised against employed lawyers receiving extended rights of audience.
"Why are employed members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents being viewed differently to employed solicitors and employed barristers?" he asked.
Meanwhile, Bacfi has welcomed a pledge by the Bar Council to support the swift introduction of similar rights of audience for employed barristers to those that have now been granted to solicitors.
This follows the Lord Chancellor's recent decision to introduce limited rights of audience in the higher courts for employed solicitors, after Aclec advised that they should be excluded completely from these courts.
At a Bar Council meeting last month, the Bar Council's chief executive, Niall Morrison, pledged to secure the re-establishment of parity between the advocacy rights of barristers and solicitors.
"The imbalance between the rights of the employed Bar and employed solicitors needs to be urgently addressed," said Steven Bacon, chair of Bacfi.