Old conflicts re-surface after Queen's Speech splits profession

The legal profession's united front in opposing the Government's legal reforms has broken down on the issue of public defenders.

Both the Law Society and Bar Council of England & Wales repeatedly stressed their united opposition to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's legal aid reforms announced a year ago.

But in the wake of the Queen's Speech last week, signalling the arrival of public defenders, the traditional antagonism between the two organisations has re-emerged.

While the Bar Council is preparing to oppose any public defenders office, the Law Society says many criminal solicitors will want to join it and enjoy the benefits of a guaranteed salary and government pension plan.

A spokesman said while the society was concerned about aspects of the Government's proposed Criminal Defence Service (CDS) it was pointless opposing public defenders at this stage. “It's silly to go around screaming blue murder before you know what the client wants,” he said.

But a spokesman from the Bar Council confirmed it was preparing to “vigorously” oppose the scheme.

Last weekend Bar Council legal services committee vice chairman Peter Lodder briefed barristers on the ineffectiveness of foreign public defenders' schemes.

Lodder told barristers that when the primary concern of the Government is cutting the cost of justice, experience in other jurisdictions showed salaried defence lawyers were inexperienced, overwhelmed with work and held in low esteem by clients.