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Clause 101 - Official solicitor of Northern Ireland

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 8th July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 4:00 pm, 8th July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in

clause 101, page 55, line 25, after 'Court', insert 'or a barrister'.

This amendment is a small point. I declare an interest as a member of the Bar of England and Wales, although I am not currently in practice. There seemed no reason why a barrister in Northern Ireland should not be considered as a possible appointee as an Official Solicitor. I am not a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland, and I have never practised there, but I know that in the courts of England and Wales there is no restriction. The Minister will correct me if I wrong, but I think that those qualified at the Bar, rather than as solicitors, have been appointed as Official Solicitors in the past. I want to probe the Government on that small point.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is holding fast to his seat: I am sympathetic to his amendment. It seeks to allow barristers, as well as solicitors, to be eligible for appointment as Official Solicitors. At present, only solicitors of seven years standing are eligible for that post. The position advocated by the hon. Gentleman is attractive. I see no immediate difficulty with what he is trying to achieve, and it merits further consideration, in particular in Northern Ireland. However, I urge him to withdraw his amendment for two reasons. First, I am advised that there might be drafting issues that we have to get right. Secondly, I want the opportunity to give further consideration to the matter as it applies to Northern Ireland. There is merit in his suggestion, and I hope that we can act on it at a later stage.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I am delighted to hear that. It shows how flexible this Minister is able to be. In those circumstances, I am happy to withdraw the amendment, so long as the Minister is happy when he introduces a Government amendment to admit that the idea came from the Conservative Benches. On that understanding, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 102 to 104 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 7 and 8 agreed to.

Clauses 108 and 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.