The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has come out in support of a Bar Council call for a clamp-down on allowing those without rights of audience to appear at hearings.
Following the Bar’s intervention, the Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC) has drawn the issue to the attention of the Ministry of Justice, saying it was “not unsympathetic to the problem”.
The ACL’s concern is that courts are continuing to hear unregulated and unqualified persons and failing to recognise the importance of a regulated profession. .
The Bar Council and Personal Injuries Bar Association wrote to the CPRC over their concerns that solicitor’s agents – usually unregistered barristers – were increasingly being used to conduct advocacy in open court at stage 3 quantum-only hearings under the various personal injury pre-action protocols.
The two bodies said the exemption in the Legal Services Act 2007 from needing rights of audience was plainly drafted to confine it “to hearings which are held in private” – the Act uses the now out-dated phrase “in chambers”.
Minutes from the CPRC’s February meeting said it passed the issue on to the government because it was not the committee’s function to interpret the 2007 Act to resolve legal ambiguity.
ACL chairman Iain Stark said: “Before Costs Lawyers, the courts utilised the legal myth of a so-called solicitor’s agent, notwithstanding that arguably these individuals had no rights of audience. But the law and the profession have been modernised in recent years, and it is clear that there is a push towards the need to be a practising lawyer with independent rights of audience to appear in open court.
“Having worked so hard to get where we are, some members will find it disappointing that the courts have not recognised this change and urge the Ministry of Justice to take action to ensure the integrity of the advocacy regime.”