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29 July 2013
Several years ago the idea of a solicitor advocate being featured in a law report in The Times would have been unthinkable. But a recent case where this occurred has left no doubt that rights of audience at the highest courts are now out of the exclusive grip of the Bar.
The newspaper listed army officer-turned-solicitor advocate Tim Lawson-Cruttenden, of London firm Dawson Cornwell & Co, as the man in court for the respondent in an appeal presided over by the Master of the Rolls and Lords Justices Millett and Schiemann.
And at the end of the case there was no question that counsel could have achieved a better result than Lawson-Cruttenden. He won a decision which he claims overturns Green Book rules and directly conflicts with the leading authority on the area of law at the centre of the case. "And it took a solicitor to do it," he said. "What I now wonder is how many other rules there are which are being adhered to could and which should also be overturned."
Lawson-Cruttenden has grave doubts that the rulings, first of a County Court judge and later of the Court of Appeal, would have been achieved had he designated the courtroom role to a member of the Bar, rather than conduct the case himself with his recently acquired solicitor advocate status. "I honestly believe if I had instructed a junior member of the Bar in the case, they would probably have accepted the authorities I disputed," he said.
He also believes the case would not have been concluded so rapidly had he not master-minded it personally. Use of counsel would, he claims, have slowed matters down.
The case's signpost ruling strengthens the rights of those who face harassment from unwanted suitors, but who are not protected by laws intended to protect spouses from domestic violence.
The appellant in the case had been jailed for breach of an injunction that banned him from going within 250 yards of the home of Lawson-Cruttenden's client. He had cycled along the road past her property.
In court it was argued that under County Court rules there was no power for imposition of such an order in non-matrimonial proceedings and that this view was backed by a leading book on the subject.
But Lawson-Cruttenden - a keen sportsman who relishes a challenge - contested both the text book view and the County Court rules which state: "There is no power at common law to grant an injunction restraining a defendant from entering an exclusion zone outside the plaintiff's premises even where the action is for trespass coupled with a claim for an injunction against molestation."
Lawson-Cruttenden argued this was incorrect and won a resounding victory in the ruling from the Master of the Rolls that upheld the original injunction, the County Court jail order, albeit in a modified form, and indicated that courts are entitled to make such orders.
For Lawson-Cruttenden, 40, a solicitor since 1989 and recently a committee member of the Solicitor Advocate's Association, it was his first real chance to make the most of the solicitor advocate status he achieved last November.
Lawson-Cruttenden admitted the experience was nerve racking and that the workload in preparing the case, which ran from County Court hearing to Appeal Court decision in just six days, was heavy.
But he said he was determined to exercise his rights on this occasion and that what he has achieved should encourage other solicitor advocates.
As well as leading by example on the road to increased solicitor advocacy, he has no doubts this is one of the major directions for the profession in the future.