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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I, too, wish to observe, as did the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that the Bill is a remarkable achievement by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Together with the changes in civil procedure which are to be enacted next month, it matches that of Lord Selborne some 100 years ago. I trust that, like Lord Selborne, the noble and learned Lord will one day have a building named after him to commemorate the fact.
I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that there are some good provisions in the Bill. Some were there from the beginning. Others arrived by virtue of the noble and learned Lord's generosity during the Bill's passage.
The most important theme that has underlain the Bill, and remained intact, is the introduction of what I would call preventive legal advice. Rather like preventive medicine, it is supposed to anticipate people's problems so that they do not have to litigate in the first place. For the first time in our legal history, I think, we have a real chance of giving people who need it early and accessible advice that will prevent their having to go to court.
On the other hand, I remain disturbed by a number of aspects of the Bill; in particular, the noble and learned Lord's unwillingness to accept that lawyers are professionals rather than entrepreneurs. Indeed, his view of conditional fee arrangements suggests that sometimes they are highly speculative entrepreneurs. I would have hoped for more guarantees than he has been able to give that if the conditional fee system does not work the traditional protections of the legal aid system will quickly be reintroduced--a system that has in so many respects served this country well.
I have also been somewhat disturbed by some of the language used on occasions by the noble and learned Lord about the legal profession. The expression "feather bedded" has been used more than once. The expressions "inward looking" and "backward looking" have been used; indeed, sometimes the legal profession has been backward and inward looking at the same time.
But the noble and learned Lord introduced a novel thought today in response, I think for the fourth time of making, to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He used the term "trade unionist." When the noble and learned Lord first used that word I thought, "Good heavens above, the noble and learned Lord has had a great change of heart. Lawyers are no longer feather bedded, inward looking, backward looking or protected." I then realised that it was just another way for the noble and learned Lord to say exactly the same thing. The truth of the matter is that the legal profession is no better or worse than any other. For the most part, its members are deeply committed to the ethics of their profession and their primary intention is to serve the public. I am sure that that will continue to be the case in the dramatically changed conditions which the Access to Justice Bill is bound to introduce.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I shall be brief. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the explanations that he has given. We congratulate him on the open-mindedness with which he accepted amendments moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, at the beginning of the Committee and Report stages. They were fundamental amendments and the noble and learned Lord's acceptance is most welcome.
The Bill contains many amendments to previous legislation. I should not like to estimate what proportion of its many pages do so, but it is high. Therefore, if the Bill is to be acceptable to those who will be responsible for administering it, there should be consolidation of this branch of the law as soon as may be.
Finally, I have been a proud member of the Bar since 1933 and still maintain that the integrity, independence and efficiency of the Bar of England is something of which we can all be proud. I trust and believe that in the work the noble and learned Lord still has to do on the Bill he will maintain the Bar's independence.
Lord Hacking: My Lords, when my noble and learned friend introduced the Bill at Second Reading, I and a number of colleagues on these Benches gave it a warm welcome. Now that it passes from this House to another place, I and colleagues on these Benches agree that it is a better Bill and wish it an even better passage through another place.
The handling of the Bill through this House by the noble and learned Lords, the Lord Chancellor and Lord Falconer, has been significant. Like other Bills from the Government, it has had the advantage of excellently prepared Explanatory Notes extending to more than 65 pages. At earlier stages, they were useful reference points. We thank the noble and learned Lord and his
The second matter for congratulations is the flexibility which the noble and learned Lord has shown throughout the Bill in listening to amendments and accepting their principle. I am unable to count the number he accepted, but I venture to calculate that well over two dozen have been incorporated into the Bill with the assistance of the noble and learned Lord. Indeed, to put it the other way round, the noble and learned Lord, having heard our contributions, went back to the Bill with his officials.
It must be recognised that the flexibility which the noble and learned Lord has shown must have placed a great deal of work, if not strain, on some of his officials. We should be grateful for all the work carried out behind the scenes in drafting the amendments once the principles had been accepted by the noble and learned Lord.
In the light of the great flexibility that the noble and learned Lord has shown, perhaps I may draw his attention to the fact that I have tabled a dozen amendments to the next Bill he is to take through your Lordships' House; that is, the Contracts (Right of Third Parties) Bill. I hope that he will show the same flexibility and friendship to my amendments to that Bill as he has shown during the passage of this Bill. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, there are many things which I do badly and one of them is to dissemble. I am bound to say in clear terms that I believe the Bill can do enormous harm to the profession of the Bar and the solicitors. We have already drawn attention to the constitutional aspects in the Bill. I was horrified to hear my noble and learned friend seek to support what he did as not being a breach of the separation of powers. If he is right, all the judges who submitted a memorandum on the Green Paper were totally wrong because they stated in terms, "These are serious violations of the doctrine of separation of powers".
Lord Hacking: My Lords, this matter has been raised before. I can say categorically, because I am close to the decision-making of the Law Society on this issue, that that is not the case. The Law Society has every intention of upholding all the standards of its professional members, including advocacy standards. An example of the testing of the Law Society in the application of those principles is that a moderately small number of solicitors achieved the higher advocacy certificates. That is because the Law Society deems that to be an important certificate and that only those worthy of it should get it.
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