Lord Irvine's plans to smash the Bar's near monopoly of higher court advocacy have been greeted with jubilation by solicitors.
In last week's consultation paper on rights of audience, the Lord Chancellor called for full rights of audience for all solicitors from their first day on the Roll, providing they met certain training requirements to be drawn up by the Law Society.
And in a move that will increase his personal power, he plans to scrap the The Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (ACLEC), and the judiciary's right of veto on the Lord Chancellor's decisions – generally regarded as the major barrier to reform since the 1990 Courts and Legal Services Act.
Law Society president Phillip Sycamore said: “We are very pleased that the Government has decided to tackle the restrictive rules governing lawyers who can appear in court. Many highly competent solicitors are deterred from applying for rights of audience because of these difficulties.”
The Law Society is already drawing up plans to provide solicitors with a number of ways of obtaining higher court rights of audience. It is understood the Lord Chancellor may even allow all advocacy training to be incorporated into the legal practice and professional skills courses.
Mark Humphries, vice chairman of the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) said: “Today is the day we have spent the last eight years preparing for.
“The massive investment here at Linklaters training litigators to conduct advocacy has been entirely justified.”
Heather Hallett QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the Bar would seek to respond positively. She said it was not frightened of competition from solicitors, but she attacked the plan to give full rights to CPS lawyers.
“As a matter of principle, I think, on the basis of what I have seen in some other countries, we need to be very careful not to give too great a control of the prosecution system to the state,” she said.
But both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of First Division Civil Servants, which represents CPS lawyers, were delighted with the plans.
One member of ACLEC said the removal of the veto from the designated judges was a “major constitutional development”, which might encounter opposition from the House of Lords.