Solicitors have launched a determined bid for the right to present cases in the higher courts, which are now restricted to barristers. The move is set to place the two branches of the profession on collision course. The Law Society, which represents about 4,000 solicitors, has submitted a blueprint for change to the Chief Justice, putting forward arguments in favour of scrapping the monopoly held by barristers. A Judiciary spokeswoman said the Chief Justice had passed the document on to the Secretary for Justice as changes to the law would be required if solicitors were to be given the extended rights. The Bar Association, representing more than 700 barristers, has reacted swiftly by setting up a committee to investigate the issue and to produce a report on the impact it may have on the legal system. Newly elected president of the Law Society, Herbert Tsoi Hak-kong, said yesterday solicitors were being held back by the 'artificial and archaic' rules. Litigants must hire a solicitor and a barrister for cases at the High Court and Court of Final Appeal. The solicitor prepares the case and the barrister puts forward the arguments to the judge. Mr Tsoi said: 'We are still pushing for higher rights of audience.' Solicitors would be able to benefit from new laws, soon to come into force, which raise the financial limit for cases which can be heard at the District Court from $120,000 to $600,000, he added. This means bigger cases will be heard at the District Court, where solicitors already have the right of audience. 'We will be dealing with some quite substantial claims and through that, we can build our confidence and experience in litigation,' Mr Tsoi said. 'Then, in due course, if the judges think we are capable enough, we can have our rights extended to the higher courts.' But Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah SC warned the society's bid, if successful, could damage the legal profession: 'It is a big topic. The moment I heard they were pushing for this, I immediately set up a high-powered committee,' he said. Mr Tong said he only learned of the Law Society's 'push' at a cocktail party and was surprised and concerned it had not discussed the matter with the Bar Association. He said the paper sent to the Chief Justice appeared to put forward the same arguments as those which were rejected in similar campaigns by the Law Society in 1995 and 1997. Mr Tong warned such a move would likely result in litigants having less choice as law firms would prefer to use their own solicitors to present cases instead of recommending barristers. It would also deter law students from becoming barristers, and there had been predictions in England and Wales, where solicitors have the extended rights, that the number of barristers would be halved in the next 10 years, he added. Mr Tong said this would lead to less protection for the rule of law as barristers tended to be more independent and likely to speak out than solicitors. 'If you see a weak and diminished Bar, I am afraid there will be fewer people to speak out on the issue of the rule of law,' he added. Mr Tong has, in his personal capacity, suggested consideration be given to scrapping the rule which prevents barristers from dealing directly with the public instead of going through a solicitor. The Bar Association is holding an open forum on the two issues for barristers next week.