Lord Neuberger underscores importance of independent advocates

Lord Neuberger underscores importance of independent advocates

The importance of independent advocates as “a very precious asset” in a democratic society has been underscored by Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court.

Lord Neuberger said that an honest, expert, respected and independent judiciary was generally accepted as being an essential ingredient of the rule of law.

He told delegates at the World Bar Conference in Edinburgh that what was perhaps less appreciated was the equal constitutional importance to the rule of law of honest, expert, respected and independent lawyers.

“Advocates enjoy exclusive rights to represent litigants in court, they are accorded a status in society and, at least in some fields of law, they have the opportunity to earn quite large sums of money. And there is a reason for this.

The reason that independent advocates have, and expect to have such special privileges is…because of the fundamental importance of having independent advocates in a modern, civilised, democratic society – and above all a society run in accordance with the rule of law,” said Lord Neuberger.

“In a world where the laws conferring rights and imposing duties are increasing both in quantity and in complexity, the need for expert impartial advice and representation is greater than it has ever been.

“…a professional, expert, respected, and independent advocates profession, which faces up to its responsibilities, represents a very precious asset to a modern civilised society. Indeed, it is a vital component of a modern civilised society. You all perform a very important function.”

Lord Neuberger said that as well as privileges, advocates had responsibilities, and they, indeed all members of the legal profession, had to do all they could to ensure that access to justice was not just a slogan but a reality.

“Ensuring that problems and cases are dealt with in a genuinely proportionate way, so that costs are commensurate with the amount or issues at stake is the ultimate aim, and it is one to which everyone, not least advocates, must strive,” he said.

“The financial squeeze which is being applied to so many areas concerned with the rule of law in general, and access to justice in particular, does make us question many of our cosy assumptions and practices, which is no bad thing.”

He also suggested judges should come not just from the legal profession but from all walks of life in an extension to the current arguments for greater diversity.

He said: “Limiting judicial recruitment at any level to former practitioners is positively to be discouraged. Diversity is always an important aim, and it should not be limited to the familiar categories, such as ethnic origin and gender.”

The Supreme Court President added: “Diversity in social, educational, and professional backgrounds is every bit as vital. Nor would I rule out any element of early-entry judicial career structure. Not only would it add to diversity of judicial background, but it may improve diversity by attracting those who might otherwise drift away from the world of law.”

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