Judges attack 'breathtaking' plans for abolition of Aclec

THREE of the country's leading judges have attacked the government's “breathtaking” plans to abolish the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) and sweep away the restrictions governing solicitors' rights of audience in the higher courts.

Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, and Sir Stephen Brown, the president of the Family Division, all took pot-shots at the government during a special Aclec seminar on the future of legal services, details of which emerged last week.

During last month's seminar, attended by Geoff Hoon, the minister of state at the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), Judge Stuart-Smith described Hoon's attitude towards the abolition of Aclec as “positively breathtaking”.

He told Hoon: “Judges are concerned not about the widening of rights of audience per se, but about the quality of advocates.

“Inadequate and incompetent advocacy is very costly and creates the risk of wrong decisions on fact.”

Both Brown and Judge Butler-Sloss expressed concern at the way the government was going about such a major reform.

Brown, a known opponent of extended rights of audience for solicitors and one of the “designated judges” with the power to veto rights of audience extensions, revealed that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, had not discussed with him the plan to remove Brown's veto before issuing a consultation paper on the changes in June.

Judge Butler-Sloss asked Hoon why fundamental changes to the justice system were being consulted on over the vacation period and urged him to “make haste more slowly”.

In its official response to the proposals, also issued last week, Aclec argued that its “independent , authoritative, expert advice” provided a vital safeguard to ensure the quality of advocacy for consumers.

A spokesman for the LCD said the views expressed by Aclec and members of the judiciary would be taken into consideration.

Elsewhere during the seminar, Sir Iain Glidewell, who has just finished a major inquiry into the Crown Prosecution Service, said CPS lawyers should not be granted full rights of audience for five years in order to allow the service time to get its act together.