The right to choose a lawyer is part of our accepted rights, yet threatened by the criminal legal aid proposals. How essential is that right? When you last needed a doctor, banker, priest, dentist or schoolteacher, what choice did you actually have? At best you probably had a limited choice and not a completely free one.
In theory one can select which professional you get but the reality is that choice is limited by the availability of suppliers and the systems in place that organise the profession in question. You can express a preference for your doctor, but that is limited by the fact that most surgeries restrict themselves to certain areas, and insisting on a particular doctor within the practice is limited by who is available.
There is more choice when picking your banker or dentist but they are wholly or mainly private professions.
I suspect our clients have much less choice than we would like to think. Again it is limited by the number of suppliers. Try choosing a family or housing lawyer. It very difficult to find one let alone choose one. In an increasingly specialist profession there are less lawyers around to choose from. Many clients have no choice at all as the lawyer is imposed on them if they are unable to decide themselves.
It might be said that the choice of a lawyer is a much more fundamental right than choice in other professions. I cannot see that. Choosing which solicitor to write your will is not more important than which doctor to treat a life-threatening condition.
Admittedly, choosing who not to have is a fundamental right in cases of competence or conflict and the selection should not be imposed by the state or the other party to litigation, clearly. I would, though, question how we as a profession can argue that having a choice of lawyer is essential.
David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott