Advocacy skills are slipping in court, judges warn

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Jun 28, 2018
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Criminal law specialist solicitors’ firms are shunning the Bar and using in-house advocates

Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Basic courtroom advocacy skills are slipping, judges have told legal profession regulators as they voiced concern about lawyer training standards.

Judges told watchdogs for the two senior branches of the legal profession that their biggest worry was over advocates taking on cases “beyond their level of experience”.

Members of the bench added that they were often unsure over when and how they should report incidents of poor advocacy.

A report from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board — which was produced with the Institute for Criminal Policy Research of Birkbeck, University of London — concluded that criminal law specialist solicitors’ firms are overwhelmingly shunning the Bar and using in-house advocates in the magistrates’ courts.

In 90 per cent of cases at that level and in the youth courts, law firms instructed their own solicitor-advocates. Perhaps more worrying for the Bar, in-house solicitor-advocates were used in 30 per cent of crown court trials.

The report found that law firms’ approach to training for solicitor-advocates was “inconsistent, with its delivery often infrequent, limited or not planned”.

Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, said that his organisation would “be working with our fellow regulators and the profession to ensure that quality is maintained and people receive a good service”.

Vanessa Davies, director-general of the BSB, pointed to the report’s conclusion that judges “acknowledge that some of the pressures on advocates, not least current financial pressures, do threaten that quality and that there are some examples of poor performance.

“We remain determined to ensure that standards of advocacy are maintained and improved where needed.”

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