A proposal that every local authority be required to appoint a qualified chief legal officer has attracted split responses from 70 different organisations.

The Law Society and Solicitors in Local Government have proposed a change in the law to create the new role, replacing that of monitoring officer, who does not have to be legally qualified. Chief legal officers would be solicitors, barristers or legal executives.

The Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors and the Local Government Group, the SLG’s training arm, opposed the plans from the outset (see [2009] Gazette, 5 February, 3).

The consultation also drew criticism from England’s largest local authority. Mirza Ahmad, corporate director of governance at Birmingham City Council, described the proposal as ‘poor-quality and lacking in real understanding of issues facing monitoring officers’.

But the Institute of Legal Executives said it would ‘be in the public interest’ for councils to have a chief legal officer answerable to a professional regulatory body.

A paper on the proposal will go before the Law Society’s legal affairs and policy board in the next two months, Mark Stobbs, the Law Society’s director of legal policy, said.

Meanwhile, local authorities are being urged not to pass the cost of practising certificate fees on to their legal officers as a cash-saving measure. Guy Goodman, SLG’s chair, says he was made aware of one council considering passing on the £995 fee to its solicitors. ‘This would be a backward step and is not a move we would support.’