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Access to Justice Act 1999 and the fusion debate
o Although the Courts and Legal Service Act 1990 paved the way
for solicitors in private practice to gain higher audience rights,
approval procedures were convoluted and slow. Applications were
taking several years to process because of complex "hurdles" and
the need to gain the approval of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory
Committee on Education and Training.
o In 1998 in a Consultation Paper entitled "Rights of Audience: The
Way Ahead", the Lord Chancellor's Department outlined radical
proposals for changes to the legal profession. The latter formed
the basis of new legislation and has subsequently renewed the
debate on fusion.
o Under sections 36 and 37 of the Access to Justice Act 1999,
every barrister, solicitor and Crown Prosecutor will have rights of
audience before every court in relation to all proceedings.
However, these rights are not unconditional and in order to
exercise them all lawyers must:
1. Obey the rules of conduct of their professional bodies
2. Must have met any training requirements prescribed
o Section 35 abolished the Lord Chancellors' Advisory Committee and
replaced it with a new Legal Service Consultative panel, with
members selected by the Lord Chancellor. The panel's role being
to provide the Lord Chancellor with any advice he requires about
legal services and education. It will have an active role in the
maintenance and development of standards in education, training
o The legislation was tantamount to the abolition of monopolistic
practices, with the potential to increase competition, choice and
cost effectiveness. Although cost effectiveness may be the
`hidden agenda' of the Lord Chancellor's department the gains to
consumers are potentially substantial.
o The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 gave solicitors in private
practice `Higher Audience Rights'. However, state-employed
lawyers (e.g. those working for the Crown Prosecution Service)
were left out. As a result CPS lawyers, having started a case in the
magistrate's court could not follow through into the crown court.
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involves unnecessary repetition of work. If one person handled the
case from beginning to end this would not be needed.
o It would also prevent communication problems. The system would
be more efficient. The need to send papers to and fro between
barristers and solicitors can lead to lost documents and
inefficiency. If the work was contained within the same firm,
particularly with details loaded on the firm's computer system,
performance would be improved.…read more