Employed bar enraged by defeat of rights plan

Employed barristers say they are outraged at the House of Lords' rejection of the Government's plan to extend their rights of audience to the higher courts.

The Bar Association for Commerce Finance and Industry says it is amazed and dismayed by the claim, made by Lords Ackner and Hutchinson, that in-house lawyers cannot be trusted to have high court rights of audience.

Bacfi chairman Susan Ward says: “What is shocking to us is that this unfounded claim should be used as a rallying cry in an unelected house to defeat the Government's election promise to reform legal services.”

The Law Society is equally adamant that solicitors will not be prevented from acting as advocates in the higher courts and says any attempt to place unnecessary restrictions on properly-qualified advocates, whether employed or in private practice, will be vigorously resisted.

Law Society president Michael Mathews says: “Employed lawyers are not second-class lawyers. Client choice must be at the centre of the reforms and any restriction on rights of audience can only damage this. A wider pool of advocates will lead to a more representative judiciary.”

The Bill falls outside the jurisdiction of the Parliament Act and therefore the Lords could, theoretically, again strike out the relevant clause.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor says: “The Lord Chancellor will have clause 31 reinstated to the Access to Justice Bill at a later stage. There can be no justification for a blatantly restrictive practice.”