The lord chief justice has suggested that members of the judiciary sit on legal services regulatory boards to ensure that lawyers' advocacy standards are maintained in court.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd told the House of Commons justice committee today that he wanted judges’ interests represented in whatever future changes are made to the regulatory framework.
Thomas cited issues with lawyers representing clients applying for judicial review in respect of immigration or asylum decisions.
In these cases, he said, there was ‘insufficient attention’ to the standards applied to those providing legal advice.
‘It was terrible for the court but even worse for litigants because they would go to a highly reputable person who would say "there is nothing more that can be done", [then] they would go to someone else who would take quite a lot of money off them and then they would come and make a completely hopeless application to the court to no benefit.
‘I do think standards of integrity and standards of competence [judges] have an absolute interest in, and that is why I always make the point when I am asked about rights of audience that I do think it is very important we have effective discipline of litigators.’
Thomas also criticised what he called ‘abuse of process’ by certain firms in paying trainees poorly and giving them sole responsibility for cases. He added: ‘If you take someone on as a trainee you owe them the duty to pay them properly and an absolute duty to supervise them.’
Earlier in the evidence session, framed around the LCJ’s annual report, Thomas spoke out against the principle of court fees ‘cross-subsidising’ other expenses in the justice system.
‘It seems to me you have to think the criminal justice system is a integral part of society and that cannot be funded by other litigants,’ he said.
He agreed the current level of fees risk acting as a barrier to justice and have contributed to rising numbers of litigants in person.
In terms of judicial recruitment, Thomas said the High Court was short of six judges at present, with impending retirements meaning up to 40 judges must be recruited in the coming years.
The lord chief justice had cited low morale and recruitment problems in his report, and he accepted that the pension reforms – which are subject to ongoing legal challenges – were the key to issues with filling judicial vacancies.
‘We do have to recruit a lot and of the questions of morale, by far the most important is to sort out particularly the problems that have been caused by the way in which the approach to pensions has been adjusted fiscally.
‘Whereas in an ordinary private enterprise you just pay someone more to compensate them for what has happened that is taking a little time with government. The government appreciates there is a problem and I am hopeful they will do something about it in the near future.’