The former chairman of the bar who led the profession when the legal services reforms were working their way through parliament has voiced strong reservations about the changes.
Stephen Hockman QC (pictured), chairman of the bar in 2006, believes the public and not just the bar will suffer if the reforms are embraced too readily by barristers. In particular, he fears that solicitors up and down the country will lose the access to the specialist advice and representation on which they and their clients have always relied.
Hockman’s comments came in an exclusive interview with Gazette columnist Joshua Rozenberg. An environmental and regulatory specialist who leads a traditional set of chambers at Six Pump Court in the Temple, Hockman was speaking ahead of a decision expected next month from the Bar Standards Board on whether barristers should be allowed to join legal disciplinary practices.
Hockman believes that those who expect major changes to the bar’s practices have misunderstood the Legal Services Act 2007. There was never any plan to create a ‘homogenous, uniform and monotonous regulatory regime under which all lawyers in England and Wales would practise’, he says. ‘I think parliament expressly intended to preserve a diversity of different regimes.
'It intended the bar — both employed and self-employed — to go on practising under a regime which preserves, rather than dilutes, its essential characteristics.’
He takes issue with the argument that barristers will be free to continue practising as they do now – and the best characteristics of an independent bar will be preserved – even if barristers are allowed to join partnerships. It’s a seductive argument, says Hockman. But if you homogenise the regulatory regimes for barristers and solicitors, he argues, then within a couple of decades the bar may be driven by commercial pressures into a partnership model. It would be ironic, he adds, if the first statute to recognise the existence of separate regulatory regimes were to result in afused profession.
Joshua Rozenberg’s interview with Stephen Hockman QC will be published in Thursday’s Gazette.