A row over whether distinguished members of the legal profession should be forced to take sips from any liquids in their luggage when they arrive at court buildings is behind the latest Government approved national identity card scheme.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced a plan to extend pilots of a digital identity app developed by legal professional bodies to five more courts in England and Wales.
It has extended the pilots allowing identified lawyers to register for fast track entrance to Chester, Nottingham, St Albans and Swansea Crown courts, along with Portsmouth Combined Court.
The original scheme, launched in August, covered Brighton Magistrates’ Court, Maidstone Combined Court, Southwark Crown Court, Tameside Magistrates’ Court and Wood Green Crown Court in London.
As part of the scheme, the Bar Council has developed an app which displays a digital identity that can be scanned by court officers.
The HMCTS project grew out of a row over new security procedures introduced in courtrooms in August 2017. These required all visitors to pass through airport-style screening gates and to prove that drinks in bottles and coffee cups were genuine.
Barristers and solicitors reacted with fury to being subjected to the controls. Professionally, they regard themselves as “officers of the court”.
To add insult to injury, the “sip test” on drinks coincided with catering facilities being withdrawn at many courts, meaning that hapless juniors have to publicly sample trays of drinks brought in from the local Costa.
Andrew Walker QC, chair of the bar, noted: “Few other professionals are required to waste time in lengthy queues and to pass through onerous and intrusive security checks every day simply in order to carry out their work.”
Earlier this year the Bar Council and Law Society, representing barristers and solicitors respectively, persuaded the Ministry of Justice to allow properly identified professionals to bypass routine security checks (which would still be in courts handling terrorism or serious organised crime trials).
Ironically, the ID scheme is coming into use as the UK leaves the EU - which for decades has sponsored a lawyers’ identity infrastructure that was spurned by British jurisdictions.
The row – which has added to the climate of suspicion between the Government and legal professions over court reforms and legal aid cuts – might have been avoided if UK bodies had signed up to the EU scheme to issue identities to lawyers.
In accordance with the STORK (Secure Identity Across Borders) programme, the Council of Bar Associations of Europe has issued an identity card since 1978. Among other uses, it accredits the holder to the Court of Justice of European Union in Luxembourg.
But neither the Ministry of Justice nor the legal professional bodies in England and Wales saw any need to issue official identities to lawyers.
Image from iStock, Anthony Baggett