LCD throws rights of audience into doubt

Local government solicitors were plunged into confusion after the long-awaited decision on rights of audience for employed solicitors appeared to throw into doubt their existing rights to appear as advocates in child care proceedings.

The press release issued by the Lord Chancellor's Department announcing the decision to partially lift the restriction on higher court audience rights for employed solicitors said council solicitors would not be able to appear on their own in care proceedings.

However, council solicitors already do appear as advocates in child care proceedings, most of which are held in chambers, up to and including the High Court.

An LCD spokeswoman confirmed the situation had not changed and that the Lord Chancellor and four senior judges have simply decided not to extend their rights of audience in the High Court.

Jane Ramsey, head of legal services at Merton Council, remains unimpressed. She said LCD pronouncements on the issue have been "confusing and unhelpful".

Ramsey added that there had been no direct communication about the issue with local government solicitors, who had been left to try and piece together what was happening through press reports.

Law Society Local Government Group chair Peter Urwin said he was unhappy with the long-awaited decision on rights of audience for employed solicitors.

"After six or seven years, to be left with a decision that really gives us nothing is really disappointing," he said.

The Law Society is considering whether or not to press for a judicial review of the decision.