The Law Society has urged the attorney general to give a warmer welcome to solicitor advocates to carry out civil, EU and international work for the government.
The Attorney General's Office and Government Legal Department have been consulting on proposals to make changes to the AGO's civil panels ahead of a regional competition later this year.
Though it had no specific comments on the proposals, the Society used the consultation as an opportunity, in a letter to both departments, to recommend opening up the panels to solicitor-advocates.
Although panel membership is open to barristers and solicitors (who must have a higher court advocacy qualification), Chancery Lane's director of legal and regulatory policy Sophia Adams Bhatti said there are currently no solicitor-advocates on the London and regional panels, 'and all the accompanying information and documentation is written with barristers in mind'.
The public international panel, which was established in October 2013, is the only one that appears to be accessible to solicitor applicants, Bhatti said.
'In that panel's latest recruitment round, the application documents were modified to some extent to make them more accessible to solicitors. That recruitment exercise was successful in attracting highly talented solicitor-advocates, four of which were appointed as a result of that competition, including one solicitor QC,' Bhatti said.
The public international panel experience confirms that high-quality advocates are available, Adams Bhatti said. 'Without opening up the competition to solicitors, the attorney general would have been denied access to the widest pool of talent available,' she added.
At present, the attorney general has four panels of junior counsel to do civil and EU work for all government departments, and a public international law panel. These are in addition to any standing counsel and the first treasury counsel, James Eadie QC.
London has an 'A 'panel for senior juniors, a 'B' panel for middle juniors, a 'C' panel for 'junior juniors', and a regional panel. Panel size is determined by need.
The regional panel covers the north east, north, Wales, Midlands and south west. Panel members with ten years' experience or more are paid an hourly rate of £110. Those with five years' experience or more are paid £60 an hour. Those with less than five years' experience receive £60 an hour.
Changes outlined in the consultation, which closed on Friday, include an A, B and C panel system in the regions, and annual competitions.
The consultation paper states that the regional panel has, in many cases, become less cost-effective than the London panel because 80 out of 144 panel members are now paid £110 per hour.
It stated that 'something needs to be done to reinvigorate the regional panel', highlighting difficulties attracting 'the most junior' counsel to apply and availability issues with senior counsel.
'Opening up' the panel to solicitor-advocates with higher rights and the appropriate level of experience could address these issues, Adams Bhatti suggested.