The Legislative Council has recently passed the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2009 which will allow solicitors to apply for higher rights of audience before the Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and Court of Final Appeal, in both civil and criminal proceedings. Litigants will soon be able to decide whether their case will be argued by a barrister or a solicitor-advocate in the higher courts. The potential benefits for litigants from the introduction of solicitor-advocates include a wider choice of talent, costs savings and enhanced service from solicitors.
At present, in most civil and criminal cases conducted in open court before the Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal and Court of Final Appeal, a barrister must be instructed regardless of what is in the litigant's best interest. The changes will allow litigants to choose between instructing barristers or engaging suitably qualified solicitor-advocates to appear for them in such cases. Solicitors who have at least five years' post-qualification experience and who satisfy further eligibility requirements may apply to the Higher Rights Assessment Board for higher rights of audience. It is expected that the Higher Rights Assessment Board will be in a position to accept the first applications in around 12 months' time.
The potential benefits for litigants from the introduction of solicitor-advocates include:
- increased choice of advocates – litigants will be able to choose from a wider talent pool;
- costs savings - in some cases, engaging a solicitor-advocate can reduce duplication of legal fees and improve efficiency of legal service;
- enhancement of service from solicitors - some matters may be handled from start to finish by solicitors who are familiar with the case from the outset and have a more in-depth knowledge of the litigant or its business, which will allow the litigant to enjoy continuity of service.