Rights decision splits Aclec again

A DEEP rift among the Lord Chancellor's advisers on rights of audience which first emerged last year over in-house lawyers' rights has resurfaced again amid claims the majority has not “adequately performed its role”.

The latest split in the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) is over its rejection of an application by the Institute of Commercial Litigators (ICL).

The group wanted rights to conduct building, construction and engineering-related litigation in the High and county courts and limited rights of audience in interlocutory proceedings.

After considering the application for over two years, a majority of the 17 member committee ruled the application's “defects could not be remedied by any amendments”.

In its report, issued earlier this month, the majority said the granting of rights to the institute in its present form “would not be consistent with the Act's requirement to maintain the proper and efficient administration of justice”.

But a four-person minority, which includes Warwick University research fellow Lee Bridges, attacked this decision in a dissent, claiming the committee's primary role under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 is to assist applications.

In a telling passage, given the length of time Aclec has taken to consider this and other applications, they add: “Were the committee to confine itself to the more limited role set out for it in the Act…it is also likely that applications could be dealt with much more expeditiously, with consequent savings in time and expense.”

The minority issued its own advice to the institute to compensate for the majority's lack of help. “We hope we have gone some way to remedy the situation and…to act within both the letter and spirit of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990,” they conclude.

The dispute echoes the rift which emerged last June when Aclec split down the middle over extended rights of audience for in-house solicitors.

Then the minority argued the majority, which rejected the application and included Aclec chair Lord Steyn, had gone beyond Aclec's remit by advising on wider questions of policy.

“We have been treated with contempt by the majority,” said ICL director Patrick Lineen.

The institute is considering making an application to the Lord Chancellor in line with the minority's view that the application needed “considerable further development”.