Jul 12, 2022

Written By Anusmrta Singh

Can legal executives appear in court?

Jul 12, 2022

Written By Anusmrta Singh

Most law students study to become either barristers or solicitors. However, some also become legal executives who do similar work to solicitors but have reserved rights, limiting their legal functions, like being able to appear in court.

Who is a chartered legal executive?

A legal executive, formally known as a chartered legal executive, is a type of lawyer. They act like solicitors do in the legal system but their training and practise is usually much more specialised and focuses on a single area of law early on. For example, this could be family law or personal injury law.

They are also usually referred to as a ‘family lawyer’ (if that is their speciality), rather than a solicitor. Their routes to training are significantly shorter than that of solicitors, but they are still qualified lawyers. Legal executives tend to work alongside solicitors in law firms and work on providing legal advice, researching cases and legislation and drafting legal documents.

What are reserved rights and how does this impact legal executives?

A key distinction between legal executives and solicitors/barristers is in their reserved rights (listed in the Legal Services Act 2007), such as the rights of audience. Legal executives are typically quite restricted in this respect.

The reserved rights say that legal executives do not have rights to conduct litigation or the right to an audience. Still, they do hold some rights in this case, but only in certain courts and circumstances that are circumscribed. These include the ability to have a right of audience only in chambers before judges and district judges in the high court and circuit and district judges in county courts.

Legal executives effectively have extended rights of audience, which is an exception to the reserved rights, in civil, criminal and family proceedings. Fellows qualified under the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) can advocate for their clients in County Court, Family Proceedings Court, Magistrates Court, Coroners Court and Tribunals in the area of law they specialise in.

The Legal Services Act 1990 was a landmark reform in allowing other branches of the legal system, namely solicitors and legal executives to appear in higher courts in the UK. Until this Act was passed, barristers effectively held a monopoly on being able to appear in higher courts.

There has been debate regarding this, with a controversial report from leading barristers, the Rivlin report, criticising this change in the 1990 Act. The report said that only barristers held the necessary skills and experience necessary to appear in higher courts. This was rebutted by solicitors and the CILEx. They claimed that restricting advocacy rights in higher courts would lead to limited representatives and that this would be contrary to the need to provide quality, trust, and confidence for the public.

Relevance in today’s legal climate

Recently, legal aid funding has been a growing concern in the UK. This has made the functioning of the judicial system difficult, with barristers finding it difficult to manage cases and support the courts. Legal aid is crucial to ensuring that those who cannot afford lawyers are still adequately advised and represented in court.

About 10% of criminal barristers involved in legal aid funding work have withdrawn from those cases in the past year. There has been a mass exodus of lawyers from the criminal justice as well as the backlog of about 59,000 cases in the Crown Court system.

This is why the role of legal executives is increasingly relevant in the legal system. They allow the public at least some form of legal representation when appearing in courts, and more specifically higher courts.

Despite the debates among the three branches of the legal system regarding relevant skills and experience, legal executives still hold valuable knowledge and can advise clients where needed.

This is in spite of the discrimination many legal executives face, due to their means of qualifying being very different than that of solicitors and barristers.

So, regardless of the concerns over the professional skills and training of legal executives, they do appear in court representing clients as well as doing a lot of the same work as solicitors in terms of documentation and advising.

They do face an uphill battle in gaining equal rights and facing discrimination in the work place but still play an increasingly relevant role in the legal system in England and Wales.



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