The Ministry of Justice has set out its vision of ensuring that “there are no unnecessary barriers preventing CILEX members progressing their careers”.
The comments of minister Lord Bellamy came in a House of Lords debate approving a statutory instrument opening up more senior judicial positions – recorders and Upper Tribunal judges – to chartered legal executives.
Lord Bellamy said it was an “important change” and “another step towards it being a lawyer’s merit, rather than their particular method of obtaining their legal qualification, that determines suitability for judicial appointment”. Some 77% of CILEX fellows are women.
He continued: “I will take this opportunity to say a word about the government’s vision for the CILEX profession. CILEX offers a non-graduate pathway to law, enabling professionals from varied backgrounds to have a fulfilling legal career.
“Chartered legal executives are authorised under the Legal Services Act 2007 to carry out some of the reserved legal activities prescribed under that Act.
“As the legal services market has evolved, chartered legal executives now exercise many of the same functions as solicitors. The government’s ambition is to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers preventing CILEX members progressing their careers.”
He highlighted two other forthcoming changes – one, in the Powers of Attorney Bill currently going through Parliament, would allow chartered legal executives to certify copies of powers of attorney, while the other would enable CILEX members to perform the role of duty solicitors in police stations in criminal cases.
Lord Bellamy described the judicial change as being “in line with the government’s overall vision to create and improve diversity in the profession and in the pool of potential applicants”.
Labour spokesman Lord Ponsonby supported the statutory instrument and stressed the importance of maintaining non-graduate routes “potentially to the very top as there are in other professions”.
Lord Bellamy replied: “Speaking for myself, I would certainly support the idea that we should preserve non-graduate routes from the ‘lowest’ position right through to the highest.
“I think that is essential so that everyone can work their way up without necessarily having to spend enormous sums of money on obtaining very expensive legal qualifications, in some ways, top-heavy legal qualifications, as is currently sometimes the position.”
CILEX chair Professor Chris Bones said: “This is a ground-breaking legislative change that will help tackle a lack of diversity in our judicial system that currently sees women and ethnic minorities underrepresented at a senior level.
“It also demonstrates another important step forward for CILEX in achieving equality of opportunity for our members.
“Our members now have more opportunities than ever before. The trailblazing judges among the ranks of CILEX lawyers have shown they are more than up to the job and with further senior positions now open to them, I hope to see them progress further and for even more of our members to see a judicial career is well within their reach.”
Meanwhile, the Department for Education has announced that CILEX apprenticeships will for the first time receive the same level of funding as solicitor apprenticeships.
Employers will be able to use their apprenticeship levy for to cover all stages of qualifying as a CILEX lawyer, including practice rights and advocacy training.
The new apprenticeships create a progressive career pathway aligned to CILEX paralegal and CILEX lawyer status.
For those studying on the two-year level 3 paralegal or business administration apprenticeships there is flexibility to pursue a paralegal career or to continue to study, progressing through to becoming a CILEX lawyer.
Trainee CILEX lawyer apprentices will have the opportunity to follow non-contentious (level 6) pathways specialising in areas such as conveyancing, probate and immigration, or take the contentious (level 7) route leading to qualification with civil, family or criminal litigation and advocacy rights.
Professor Chris Bones described parity of funding as “a significant milestone for CILEX and recognition that the CILEX route to becoming a specialist lawyer is an equally valid pathway”.