Lord Irvine wrong to extend audience rights, say judges

A senior judge has publicly attacked the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's plans to extend rights of audience to Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) employees, while over 100 judges have privately voiced their strong disapproval of his reforms.

Addressing the Criminal Bar Association last week, Lord Steyn, a Law Lord, said: “It would be a mistake to grant such rights to state employees.

“Prosecutions in the crown court by members of an independent Bar place a brake on the executive.”

He added: “CPS lawyers have to display a loyalty to the organisation that employs them and that imposes direct and indirect pressures on them.”

Plans to extend rights of audience to include all solicitors on their first day of admission onto the Roll, and lawyers employed by the CPS, are expected to be announced in the Queen's speech this autumn as part of the planned Bill on the modernisation of justice.

There is understood to be strong opposition from the 36 Appeal Court and 98 High Court judges to plans to remove the veto on audience rights reform, which is currently held by the country's four most senior judges, and give the final say solely to Lord Irvine.

However, Lord Irvine does have the backing of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf.