Court makes intentions clear

Irvine pledges to go all the way with audience rights

“There are no “no go' areas in the Government's determination to modernise our country,” proclaims the Lord Chancellor's consultation paper on rights of audience and rights to conduct litigation.

Noting that the 1990 Courts and Legal Services Act has led to only 624 solicitor-advocates in eight years, the paper proposes a revolutionary shake-up in England and Wales' legal structure.

The key proposals are:

All barristers and solicitors, including those in employment, should obtain full statutory rights of audience on call to the Bar or admission to the Roll of solicitors.

But the Law Society and Bar Council are invited to draw up the training their members must undertake – such as pupillages – before they can exercise these rights. If Lord Irvine considers any rule too restrictive, or too lax, he can order it to be replaced or scrapped outright.

Employed lawyers may have to meet different requirements, but “these should be no more onerous than the requirements for barristers in private practice”. If lawyers gain rights of audience, they should retain them, even if they switch to another branch of the profession or becomes an employed lawyer.

The government will also consult on whether to give the Bar Council the power to grant its members rights to conduct litigation.

The statutory approval process will be overhauled. The designated judges will no longer be able to veto the Lord Chancellor's decisions. The Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (ACLEC) will be abolished and replaced with a “more focused” body, the Legal Services Consultative Panel, which will only give advice when requested to by the Lord Chancellor.

In legal education the new panel will take over some of ACLEC's tasks but the Government does not propose that its full responsibilities should be replicated.