CILEX – the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives – has urged its regulator to press ahead with plans to seek the power to award higher rights of audience to members.
It said this would have a positive impact on the sustainability of legal services and open up career opportunities in both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the judiciary.
CILEX practitioners can currently obtain litigation and advocacy rights for the lower courts.
CILEx Regulation is consulting on whether to seek the power to grant such practitioners higher rights of audience as well for criminal or civil work (family lawyers who want higher rights would take the civil route).
In its response, CILEX said it has long advocated for the removal of barriers to its associate prosecutor (AP) members’ ability to progress their careers to become Crown Prosecutors – a move it said would “significantly widen the pipeline of available prosecuting lawyers at a time when the CPS is experiencing a recruitment crisis”.
APs are specially trained employees of the CPS, with level 1 APs permitted by law to conduct uncontested cases in the magistrates’ courts, and level 2 APs able to conduct specified contested hearings, up to and including trials of summary-only non-imprisonable offences.
Under a deal struck in 2011, APs became members of, and regulated by, CILEX. Last year, the Labour Party called for the removal of restrictions on what they can do in the Crown Court – at the moment, they would have to requalify as a solicitor or barrister to gain higher rights.
Surveys by both CILEX and CILEx Regulation have shown overwhelming support among members for higher rights.
Under the proposals, members seeking higher rights of audience would have to complete additional training and assessment and complete at least one renewal period of their existing advocacy rights before applying.
CILEX urged the regulator to consider how it might expedite members who have only criminal advocacy rights and not litigation rights and were therefore not eligible to apply as the rules are currently envisaged.
It also highlighted the importance of “greater clarity and detail of the related rules and practical arrangements required to educate and inform” those eligible to apply.
CILEX chair Professor Chris Bones said: “Plans to give specialist CILEX lawyers the ability to acquire higher rights of audience have the potential to open up new career paths for our members both at the CPS, and in the longer term, the judiciary.
“The impact of widening the pool of potential judges and prosecutors cannot be underestimated at a time when a lack of specialist lawyers is adding to court backlogs and is putting enormous strain on our already creaking justice system.
“This move would be an important step in recognising the equivalence of CILEX-qualified lawyers to other lawyers and in doing so, shoring up the long-term sustainability of the legal services market.”
If CILEx Regulation moves ahead with its plans, it will then need to seek approval from the Legal Services Board.