Red-faced solicitors apologise for Bingham snub

A NATIONAL solicitors' group has expressed deep embarrassment at the public claims of one of its committee members that Sir Thomas Bingham lacks the experience to be the new Lord Chief Justice.

Last week, Derek French claimed to be speaking for the Criminal Law Solicitors Association when he told the Law Society's Gazette that the group's committee was concerned about the new Lord Chief Justice's lack of criminal experience.

But CLSA vice-president Franklin Sinclair has disowned the remarks which he described as “regrettable” and “a little impudent”. He said: “We certainly wouldn't concur with the comments. We welcome Sir Thomas Bingham and sincerely hope he does as good a job as the last Lord Chief Justice and are confident he will.”

But French, a partner at Birmingham firm French & Co, remains unrepentant. He said CLSA members he has spoken to are concerned at Bingham's lack of relevant criminal experience. He said: “There is no doubt about Bingham's integrity and intellectual abilities but there is concern that he has no reservoir of experience to draw upon.”

He said the Lord Chief Justice was the mainstay of the Court of Appeal, adding: “You can't rule out the possibility of more miscarriages of justice because of his lack of experience.” He believed the appointment contradicted government plans to set up a commission on miscarriages of justice.

But French added: “He may well grow into the job. I would be delighted if I am proved to be wrong.”

Both 10 Downing Street and the Lord Chancellor's Department refused to comment.

Bingham and the new Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf, will be sworn into office in the Lord Chief Justice's courtroom at the Royal Courts of Justice this Tuesday. They will swear an Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office in the presence of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.