The former Lord Chancellor called for restrictions on the rights of audience of solicitor-advocates in order to ‘restore the criminal Bar to health’.
Delivering the Longford Lecture in November 2016, Michael Gove MP said serious criminal defence work should be restricted to barristers, and solicitor-advocates who re-qualify.
While there were ‘some very fine solicitor-advocates’, he suggested that barristers provide a ‘better service’.
He bemoaned the decline of the criminal Bar, ‘squeezed to the margins’ due to economic forces that have driven solicitors’ firms to retain work in-house.
He said: ‘I think we should investigate how we can better regulate those solicitor firms who refer clients to in-house advocates or those with whom they have any sort of other commercial relationship.’
Solicitors reacted to his comments with fury. Will Richmond-Coggan, Chairman of the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates, accused the Bar of using ‘protectionist tactics’ to ‘crowd out the newcomers with unsubstantiated whispering campaigns and appeals to their powerful friends in government’.
Barristers, he said, ‘want to impose artificial barriers to entry for any who seek to threaten their historic monopoly’.
But Francis Fitzgibbon QC, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: ‘I welcome any advocate whose ability matches the cases they are briefed in. The label matters less than the content of the bottle.’