Judges given option to sack lawyers in high-cost cases

The Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer has outlined plans that will see lawyers who cause delays to court cases replaced, following the collapse of BCCI and Equitable.

Falconer said the measures would apply where a law firm does not have the capacity to cope with a case or where representing more than one client in a trial might lead to a conflict of interest.

He said it will apply to “very high-cost cases” that are expected to last 41 days or more, such as terrorism trials or complex fraud cases.

The measures will give trial judges the ability to refer cases to the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which could then ask the defendant to find a different lawyer.

The move comes ahead of the post-BCCI working party’s interim report to the Commercial Court Users’ Committee in June. The working party, chaired by Mr Justice Aikens, has been looking into proposals of how to use court sanctions by judges in a bid to discourage escalating legal costs in large commercial litigation.

Falconer said trials that take too long reduce public confidence in the criminal justice system and cost the taxpayer money.

“A small number of cases are being unnecessarily delayed due to a number of specialist lawyers lacking the resources and capacity to provide timely advice to their clients and prepare cases for court,” added Falconer.

In BCCI Mr Justice Tomlinson labelled the behaviour of some of the country’s top lawyers as “unattractive”, singling out Essex Court Chambers’ Gordon Pollock QC’s 80-day opening speech as “wasted”.

The scheme will also allow the LSC to insist that law firms sign legal aid contracts on a ‘one defendant per firm basis’ in cases with multiple defendants and where charges of conspiracy have been brought.

The Ministry of Justice claims that this will remove “the potential for a conflict of interest to unfairly affect either the defendant’s case or cause the case to collapse, at great expense to the criminal justice system”.