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Legal Profession in Great Britain

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The structure of the legal system in Great Britain is not uniform. England and Wales follow a little bit different pattern than Scotland.

The legal profession in England and Wales is made up of barristers and solicitors. Historically there has been a strict division between the two branches of the profession. The barrister had higher qualification and dealt with more serious cases. With few exceptions, access to the courts was in the hands of the barrister. Besides that in the 19th century the barrister was not allowed to deal directly with the client for the sake of impartial assessment and unbiased representation. He could get the case only through the solicitor. The solicitor, in turn, had virtually exclusive access to the lay client. The solicitor selected and instructed the barrister. The instructions provided the barrister with necessary information and documents, and outlined the tasks which the solicitor wished the barrister to perform. Following tradition, the instructions and related papers were tied with a coloured ribbon, referred to as a brief which, in turn, was derived to the barrister. After review of the instructions, conferences with the instructing solicitor and his or her client, and any required legal research, the barrister argued the matter at issue in court.

Nowadays the barrister is a lawyer who has been admitted to plead at the bar. That means that he or she had graduated from University School of Law, attended the Inns of Court School of Law or other Bar Vocational Course for one year and has been called to the bar by the benchers of one of the four Inns of Court to pass the bar final exams. The call is followed by a one-year pupilage in chambers, where the young inexperienced barristers have a chance to work with experienced ones.

A solicitor is a lawyer who had graduated from the University School of Law, served under the supervision of a practicing solicitor for two years, satisfied all the demands of the Law Society and was admitted to practice by the Master of the Rolls.

Considerable change has been made in recent years with respect to the traditional rights of access. The Court and Legal Services Act abolished the exclusive rights of barrister access to the high courts. On the other hand, in 2004 some changes were introduced to the Bar Council Code of conduct, concerning the barristers right, but not requirement to accept instruction directly from the public. Thus, the strict division between the two branches of the legal profession in England and Wales has been wiped off.

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Scotlands legal system is separate from those of England and Wales but the Scottish legal profession is similarly divided into two branches - advocates and solicitors. Advocates (also known as counsel) are self-employed legal consultants who specialize in the preparation and presentation of cases and in giving legal advice. It is important to note that they are not directly instructed by lay clients but by the lay client's professional adviser. Advocates also act as mediators, in arbitrations, and as expert witnesses on Scottish law. The functions of advocates in Scotland are very similar to the functions of barristers in England and Wales.

The professional body of advocates in Scotland is not the Inns of Courts. It is the Faculty of Advocates. There are about 470 advocates in practice in Scotland. About one-fifth are QCs (Queen's Counsel, silks, or senior counsel), who are typically appointed on perceived merit after not less than about thirteen years in practice (the appointment procedure is currently in a state of flux). Every advocate is entirely independent; although for administrative purposes counsel are organized in groups known as stables, advocates are not in any sense in partnership with each other.

The other 95% of lawyers in Scotland are solicitors; they are the first point of contact for most lay clients and, in the vast majority of cases, indeed, the only one. Their professional body is the Law Society of Scotland. Advocates in Scotland don't have offices, or chambers on the English model. Almost all advocates work out of the Advocates Library in Parliament House (photo gallery) and from home. They hot-desk in the library. It is by far the best law library in Great Britain; the staff is excellent; and it has wireless networking for their laptops. Consultations are usually held just down the High Street, at 142 High Street, but may be held elsewhere by arrangement. Most advocates still live within half an hour's walk of Parliament House.

On 28 October 2006, the Faculty of Advocates adopted new rules as to direct access to advocates, without using a Scottish solicitor, with immediate effect. These substantially widen the right to use an advocate without having to go through a Scottish solicitor. Direct access by members of the public is not permitted; all instructions must come from a qualified professional.


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Several centuries ago there were very few barristers in Great Britain. That is why there was created the professional association of barristers the Inns of Court. It was a number of buildings where barristers traditionally lodged, trained and carried on their profession. Over the centuries the number of active Inns of Court was reduced to four, which are Lincolns Inn, Grays Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Other Inns, such as Serjeants Inn, Clements Inn, Cliffords Inn, Lyons Inn, Strand Inn, New Inn, Furnivals Inn, Thavies Inn, Staple Inn and Barnards Inn were dissolved and their assets were distributed amongst the existing members.

The four acting Inns of Court are located in Central London, near the western border of the City of London. Nearby is situated the Royal Courts of Justice placed there in 1882 for convenience. Each Inn is a complex with a great hall, chapel, libraries, sets of chambers for many hundreds of barristers, and gardens. The chambers were originally used as residences as well as business premises by many of the barristers, but today, with a small number of exceptions, they serve as offices only.

The Inns of Courts have three grades of membership: students, Members of Hall and Masters of the Bench or Benchers. The Members of Hall are practicing barristers and Circuit Judges. The Benchers are the most senior members. Many of them are judges and Law Lords. The benchers constitute the governing body and are self-electing i.e. existing benchers co-opt new benchers from amongst the membership of the Inn. The senior bencher of each Inn is the Treasurer. The Treasurer runs the Inn for one year only.

The four Inns of Court have a special and historic status. The Inns provide supplementary education during the Bar School year, pupilage and the early years of practice. But the most important function of the Inns is the authority to call members to the Bar and therefore confer on them right of audience in the High Court.



Date: 2016-04-22; view: 2549

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