Council lawyers slam judge's remarks

A HIGH Court judge was at the centre of a row last week after publicly criticising the use of council in-house lawyers for child care cases instead of specialist barristers.

Mr Justice Thorp was condemned by local authorities and by Henry Hodge, the deputy vice-president of the Law Society. Some council solicitors are said to be considering complaining to the Lord Chancellor.

Mr Justice Thorp was upholding an appeal by Bolton Borough Council against a county court refusal to grant care orders on two children aged one and two.

He is reported to have said: “The developing tendency of local authorities to use employed solicitors rather than specialist local counsel was to be regretted. Such staff had not the experience of contested care cases which the Bar had acquired.”

The comments are believed to be aimed at a council solicitor advocate who appeared in the case. However, Graham Smith, Bolton's deputy borough solicitor, said the lawyer involved was very experienced at dealing with care cases.

He said: “Since the report we have been contacted by a number of very concerned local authority solicitors, many of whom are taking further action such as writing to the Lord Chancellor.” Bolton is considering its position.

Smith says local authorities often have specialist legal teams for care cases. “We don't see the very generalised comments about the use of local authority employed solicitors is justified at all.”

Hodge says: “Judges should not use their position to make such wide-ranging attacks on employed solicitors. To suggest employed lawyers, solicitors or barristers cannot advise their employers with detachment and strength is just a nonsense.”

Both Smith and Hodge feel the judge's comments reflect bias in favour of the Bar.

“This looks like the judiciary promoting the interest of barristers rather than making objective comments about advocacy,” Hodge says.