Law Society committee chiefs have demanded that HM Courts & Tribunals Service rescind a diktat telling solicitors to stay behind and explain late guilty pleas.
Solicitors Ian Kelcey and Richard Atkinson, chairs of the Society's criminal law committee, told the Gazette that HMCTS 'neither had the courtesy' to consult the Society nor inform Chancery Lane of its intentions to introduce changes in court practice to reduce the number of cracked trials.
Last week the Gazette revealed that criminal defence practitioners in Thames Valley will be required to discuss, in open court, with a judge the reason for a late guilty plea.
In a joint statement, Kelcey and Atkinson said the steps are 'highly inappropriate and smack of a misguided desire to put pressure on practitioners to, in turn, pressurise our clients to enter guilty pleas'. The pair want to know 'from where HMCTS believe their power is to hold solicitors behind in courts at the conclusion of a case. It smacks of a "naughty corner" which is highly inappropriate.'
The committee chiefs reminded practitioners that, under no circumstances should they reveal to the court the content of client discussions without the client's express consent.
They added: 'We strongly advise any practitioners who are made subject to this request, firstly ask the court under what power they seek to ask them to stay, as it cannot be case management as the case has concluded. Secondly, make plain in the clearest possible terms that they cannot say anything due to the constraints of confidentiality and legal professional privilege, and to say anymore would put them in breach of their professional duties.'
HMCTS is urged 'in future to act in a more conciliatory way and consult'.