Shifting the blame

THE GOVERNMENT'S announcement last week that it plans to sweep away the restrictions preventing employed solicitors from exercising rights of audience in the higher court was a blatant and rather clumsy attempt to divert attention away from its legal aid troubles.

It was blatant, because the Government didn't really have anything substantial to announce just the vague and populist promise to end the Bar's restrictive practices. And it was clumsy because Geoff Hoon clearly wasn't on top of his brief when he announced the plan in Parliament.

By attempting to blame the Law Society for the hurdles which have been put in the way of solicitors who want to exercise their rights of audience in the higher courts he revealed an alarming ignorance about the issue. The society has pushed for change rather than blocking it.

Lifting restrictions is to be welcomed but concern remains as to whether the Government can get the reforms right.