CC breaks City ranks with push for corporate lawyers on bench

Clifford Chance is lobbying the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DAC) for commercial solicitors who specialise in non-contentious work to be allowed to become High Court judges.

Herbert Smith, Lovells and Allen & Overy (A&O), who have also made submissions, have not taken up Clifford Chance’s unusual stance.

In its submission responding to the DCA’s ongoing consultation on constitutional reform, Clifford Chance said: “We do not accept that prowess in oral advocacy, or even specialised experience of litigation, is the only, or even necessarily always the best, qualification for judicial appointment. Many senior lawyers with longstanding expertise in weighty commercial and corporate matters have as much or more to offer as potential judges than their brethren who have specialised in advocacy or litigation.”

A&O has called for more solicitors to become judges, but does not think this should include non-litigators. A&O litigation partner Andrew Clark said: “While it’s good if a judge has been a good advocate, we don’t see advocacy as the only skill. But you can’t be a judge without some court experience. You should be familiar with the theatre of the court room.”

Herbert Smith’s submission to the DCA calls for academics as well as solicitors to become judges, but does not ask the Government to allow non-contentious lawyers to progress to the bench.
A&O, Lovells and Herbert Smith all agreed with the abolition of QC status for barristers, and say that a replacement kitemark is unnecessary.

Patrick Sherrington, head of Lovells’ litigation department, said: “Our view was if there is a new kitemark we are very concerned that it is awarded in a transparent way, and not behind closed doors by people giving others a tap on the shoulder.”

Clifford Chance, however, supports the introduction of a new and independently assessed quality mark for barristers.

Clifford Chance’s submission stated: “We feel that the rank of QC should not continue because we see no basis for the Government to be involved in providing promotion within an independent profession.
“However, we see merit in the rank’s replacement by a professionally awarded quality rank provided it is objectively assessed and does not confer any priority in court.”