Mergers and an MDP
6 October 1997
The cliched green shoots of recovery seemed to have sprouted with yet more mergers: Manches & Co with Asshetons, Frere Cholmeley with Bischoff & Co, and Hammond Suddards with Ellison Westhorp. Theodore Goddard was also involved in merger discussions with Eversheds, but TG voted for termination of the talks.
Continuing the legal aid saga were the introduction of the Legal Aid Board's franchising proposals and standard fees. One legal aid firm claimed it was forced to merge as result.
Peers and MPs joined together to mount an attack on the proposed eligibility cuts in legal aid by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee. The Law Society embarked on a scheme to monitor their effects. When it took the case to the High Court to block the introduction of legal aid standard fees, the Lord Chancellor won.
Lord Mackay also announced plans to introduced advertisements for judicial posts up to circuit judge level, and later rejected the idea of a Ministry of Justice. He also indicated that lay members could have a place in interviewing candidates for judicial appointments.
The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice reported with 352 wide-ranging recommendations. They included a Criminal Cases Review Authority (CCRA), abolishing the defendant's right to jury trial where the case could be tried either in the magistrates court or crown court, and changes in disclosure. But the Queen's Speech, which included the Criminal Justice Bill and the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill, did not mention the CCRA, and proposals regarding the right of silence also came under attack.
In the wake of the Maxwell scandal there were calls for a new body to secure pension funds, and later in the year the Goode Committee report on pensions was released.
The Bishopsgate bomb at the beginning of the year led to a number of City firms being forced to move premises.
A survey of leading UK companies by The Lawyer/Hildebrandt found that law firms were discounting fees by up to 50 per cent, yet 94 per cent of their corporate clients felt they had been over-charged.
The Children Act 1991 came into force and the Child Support Agency was set up. Libel law reform was in the pipeline, with the Calcutt report on the press.
In Scotland, 28 solicitors became solicitor advocates.
Kamlesh Bahl took over as Equal Opportunities Commission chair - a timely appointment as women solicitors overtook men for the first time in the number of admissions to the Solicitors Roll. Further down the legal ladder, the Legal Practice Course replaced the old Law Society Finals.
The Government first mentioned court privatisation, and announced plans to turn the Courts Service into an executive agency by 1995. The first non-barrister to become a High Court judge was Michael Sachs.
There were still signs of a slowdown in the profession with redundancies at Simmons & Simmons, the Law Society of Scotland, Clifford Chance, Bermans and Norton Rose.
The UK's first multidisciplinary-style law firm, Garrett & Co, was set up under Colin Garrett, group solicitor of 3i, as the "London correspondent firm of Arthur Andersen's law firms network in Europe", but was to remain "an independent firm". Arthur Andersen's UK managing partner commented: "There is a danger this move might be over-emphasised."
The CPS was restructured on 1 April, with newly-appointed chief crown prosecutors and the aim of giving greater autonomy to the regions.
An FDA survey in November found that nine out of 10 CPS lawyers had no confidence in senior CPS management. And the CPS was left to fight its own corner when rights of audience were extended to private practice solicitors.