New Clause 25

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:45 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Offence of pretending to be a legal executive

‘(1) It is an offence for a person who is not a legal executive—

(a) wilfully to pretend to be a legal executive, or

(b) with the intention of implying falsely that that person is a legal executive, to take or use any name, title or description.

(2) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (or both), and

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or a fine (or both).

(3) In relation to an offence under subsection (1) committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44), the reference in subsection (2)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to six months.

(4) In this section “legal executive” means a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives.’.—[Mr. Burrowes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause replicates a similar clause that was introduced during the passage of the Legal Services Act 2007, for which I was a Committee member. It was buried deep within the recesses of that legislation, and it did not receive the light that it deserved in order to allow proper consideration of whether legal executives should be protected by way of their title. The point of this new clause is that all users of legal services should be clear that anyone who claims to be a legal executive is in fact professionally qualified, able to exercise such rights as are granted to fellows, and subject to regulation. The reason for including the definition that  

“‘legal executive’ means a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives” is that the Institute of Legal Executives’ membership restricts the use of the term “legal executive” to fellows of ILEX. All members of ILEX—there are 23,000—recognise that the 7,000 who are fellows are properly entitled to call themselves legal executives but others are not. That is a condition of membership.

ILEX members’ concern is that non-members, who are not constrained by ILEX regulation, should not hold themselves out as legal executives. There are examples of that happening in a wide variety of legal areas in which legal executives involve themselves. Proper regulation and protection of the title of legal executive under statute is in the public interest, given that legal executives involve themselves in immigration advice, claims management services and many other areas, such as unopposed applications in county court proceedings. They also act as commissioners for oaths.

I do not wish to go through the debates on the Legal Services Bill, which took up a good deal of time, but it is important, particularly given the extension of services and the opportunity to manage and partner in the matter of legal services, that the term “legal executive” should be clarified. It is in consumers’ interests to be properly assured that those providing legal services are competent and regulated. The new clause would provide such protection, which currently covers other persons who provide legal services but not legal executives.

It is also important to focus the term on fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives. In discussions of the Legal Services Bill, concern was expressed that protecting the title of legal executive could cause other grades of ILEX member to become liable to prosecution. However, given that ILEX membership restricts the use of the title to fellows, the new clause would provide a focused way to deal with a problem that could arise increasingly as legal services are extended to many areas. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to deal with the matter through regulatory provisions in the Legal Services Bill, but this is an opportunity that ILEX, perhaps not surprisingly, says is not to be missed.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

An admirable speech from the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice


The Government take consumer protection seriously, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate will be aware, having sat through proceedings on the Legal Services Bill, now an Act—it is a key principle of that legislation. I recognise fully the advantages of ensuring that consumers are clear who can use the title of legal executive. Making it an offence to pretend to be a legal executive is one way to achieve that.

The Legal Services Act 2007 already takes steps to protect consumers by ensuring that only qualified individuals who comply with an appropriate regulatory regime can provide legal services. It is therefore an  offence for unqualified persons to carry on reserved legal activities or pretend to be entitled to do so. In addition, the titles of solicitor and barrister are specifically protected.

Following debate on the Legal Services Bill in the other place, the Government were persuaded of the need for an offence of pretending to be a barrister and introduced an amendment to that effect. The argument for protecting a professional title and creating a new offence must be considered case by case, as not all professional titles are protected in statute. It is sensible to consider in each case whether such protection is needed.

The Institute of Legal Executives has approached the Department to discuss the issue. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), has written to the noble Lord Hunt of Wirral stating her views. Although the Government accept the rationale behind the new clause, we have yet to be persuaded that the title of legal executive should be protected or that the new clause is as technically perfect as it needs to be, although that is a minor point. I am perfectly happy to discuss their concerns further with the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate and the Institute for Legal Executives. We do not know whether the institute has yet consulted with its members or with consumers, and would be interested to hear what they have to say before considering fully whether such a measure is the right way forward. However, the Government are happy to continue those discussions with ILEX and with other relevant stakeholders and interested parties, and examine whether further protection is required. At this stage, however, we are not ready to concur, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to press his new clause.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful for the hope that that offers to ILEX and to others. Reference was made to the Legal Services Act. The point that parties such as ILEX wish to make, which is a good one, is that, of the various types of legal practitioner referred to in the Act, legal executives constitute the only established professional group that does not have statutory protection. They believe that it should be clear that their powers are exercised in accordance with the wishes of Parliament and that individuals who rightly claim to be legal executives should be given appropriate protection. However, I welcome the indication that there will be further discussion and consideration, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.