Mackay attacked on rights delay

A FORMER Law Lord has demanded to know why Lord Mackay is taking so long to reach a decision over rights of audience for employed solicitors.

Lord Ackner has tabled two probing House of Lords questions in an effort to prise an explanation for the “delays” in coming to a decision over the advice the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) issued in June last year.

His first question asked whether the Lord Chancellor had decided to “accept or reject” Aclec's majority advice that extended rights should not be granted and, if he had not made up his mind, when a decision would be made.

In his reply on 28 February, the Lord Chancellor said only that a decision would be made “in due course” after restating the relevant procedures he had to follow.

Clearly dissatisfied with the answer, Lord Ackner tabled a second question on 12 March which is yet to receive a reply.

In it he bluntly asks for “the reasons for the Lord Chancellor's delays in reaching his decision”.

But there is also a second limb to the question which appears to be an attempt to ascertain whether Lord Mackay has received an opinion from the four designated judges who must agree to a rights of audience change if it is to go ahead.

He asks whether the Lord Chancellor has received any other advice apart from that he has already received from Aclec and the Director General of Fair Trading.

Chris Philipsborn, of the Law Society's parliamentary office, was intrigued by the question.

“Usually questions between such senior figures and the Lord Chancellor would be dealt with on an informal basis behind the scenes.

“But rights of audience has been such a controversial issue among senior judges that it is perhaps not that surprising a question has been tabled, although it is very strongly worded.”

With impatience growing in many quarters over the length of time it has taken for a decision to be made over in-house lawyers' rights, Lord Ackner's questions will add to the pressure on Lord Mackay to make up his mind.

Walter Merricks, the Law Society's director of professional and legal policy, said Lord Mackay had a statutory duty to make a decision as soon as reasonably possible.

And he revealed that the society had received advice that it would be possible to mount a legal challenge in the face of continuing delays.

“One wonders how long it would take if Lord Mackay and the four judges weren't under an obligation to make a decision as soon as realistically practicable.”

Lord Ackner declined to comment.