The recent announcement by CILEX that it is initiating formal talks with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to explore a possible proposal to transfer the regulation of its members has raised some eyebrows.
Over the next few months, the SRA will develop proposals that will be considered by the CILEX board in autumn. This process enables CILEX to determine the feasibility and viability of delegation to the SRA, and whether it is in the interests of our 20,000 plus members and the public to proceed to a consultation with our membership. CILEX will also consider any proposals received from CILEx Regulation to revise their regulatory model to meet the challenges identified in the case for change.
All this will take time. In the meantime, CILEX will push on with its strategy as one of the three main professional bodies in England and Wales, alongside the Law Society and Bar Council, and as the pioneer of a non-university route into the law.
Our strategy is focused on improving the justice system, members’ working environment, career opportunities and awareness of the CILEX brand.
We are proud that 76% of our members are women, 16% come from an ethnic minority and 84% attended state schools. Yet we have to fight against the social, educational and professional elitism that even today defines attitudes in many of those who operate in the legal sector. Sadly, that professional elitism is all too clear to see on the Gazette comments board, which does the legal profession no favours.
Over the past year we have made considerable progress on demonstrating the robustness of the CILEX route and equivalence in standard of qualification thereby removing the final barriers to members’ full participation in the justice system. Already we have partnered with the University of Law to provide the LLB aligned with the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ). We will continue to support more CILEX members into the judiciary, partnership and other leading roles. Our members should have the recognition they deserve for the world-class, non-traditional qualification route they have followed.
We’re also fully committed to tackling the employment experience of CILEX lawyers and we’re working to improve the treatment of all legal professionals, specifically recognising the experiences of those from diverse and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, ensuring we root out bias and discrimination wherever it exists. The law should provide a workplace environment that is qualification-route blind and that appoints, promotes and rewards on talent.
We were horrified by the sentiment expressed through our member insight survey last year where our members repeatedly told us that ‘CILEX lawyers are considered to be lesser lawyers than solicitors’. Sadly, this attitude is all to prevalent to see on the Gazette comments board.
Different in the route to qualification, yes. Lesser, no.
CILEX lawyers specialise during their studies and qualify as lawyers in a specific practice area. They are authorised to practise alongside solicitors who qualify as generalists and tend to specialise after qualification.
Our members are rightly incredibly proud of CILEX and what it has enabled them to achieve. We’ll be working even harder to establish the CILEX route into the law as a strong and credible alternative to the traditional routes in the minds of students and parents, and to enhance consumer understanding of specialist lawyers. Our choice of delegated regulator will not change this.
I’m heartened by the progress being made, but recognise there is still much to do. Following an extensive campaign, government and opposition party support has been secured to deliver the legislative reforms needed to remove the final barriers to our members participating fully in all aspects of the justice system.
At the tail end of last year, lord chancellor Dominic Raab outlined three areas where the government is minded to take action, all of which will see a direct benefit to CILEX members and is in the public interest. These are:
- Enabling CILEX advocates to apply to be crown prosecutors and not be limited to associate prosecutor roles unless they cross qualify to become solicitors;
- Granting of higher rights of audience to CILEX lawyers; and
- Permitting direct applications to higher tier tribunal positions in the judiciary.
Since then, the Ministry of Justice has accepted our arguments about the need to reform the Powers of Attorney Act 1971, under which a copy of a power of attorney can only be signed by either the donor, a solicitor, a notary or a stockbroker. As such, a Private Members’ Bill has been accepted, which will allow CILEX members that right.
Further progress has been made with the lord chancellor committing to proposals to enable CILEX professionals to become duty solicitors in their own right without having to cross qualify as solicitors, which was a key recommendation resulting from the Bellamy Review on Criminal Legal Aid.
This government is finally recognising the equal training and standing of CILEX professionals, which will in turn lead to greater access to legal services and enhance consumer choice. I hope the less enlightened members of the profession will follow suit.
CILEX is not seeking for its members to be called solicitors, nor are we claiming to be something we are not. Our strategy is based on gaining the proper recognition for the specialised route that our members take to qualification, and to ensure that they are able to fully participate in an open, user-driven legal sector.
Matthew Huggett is the 59th president of CILEX