You are here

SRA consults on solicitor advocates

11 September 2019

Add comment

Changes to the assessment of solicitor advocates and qualifying requirements for undertaking advocacy in serious youth court cases have been proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In its new consultation, the SRA proposes that in future only solicitors with the higher rights of audience qualification should be allowed to undertake advocacy in more serious cases conducted in the youth courts.

It also outlines plans to introduce revised standards for the higher rights of audience qualification; the creation of a single, centralised higher rights of audience assessment; and the development of more online resources to help solicitors maintain and develop their advocacy skills.

Feedback on its proposals to create additional resources for solicitors undertaking advocacy is being sought, as well as how it might make it easier for judges and other stakeholders to report concerns about the quality of advocacy to the SRA.

The proposals, the SRA says, are designed to ensure high standards of advocacy are provided by solicitors.

It follows reports – such as the Ministry of Justice’s Jeffrey Review and SRA’s own judicial perceptions research – which suggest judges have concerns about the competence of some of the solicitor advocates appearing before them.

Between January 2015 and February 2018, the SRA received 89 complaints from the judiciary about poor advocacy.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Nowhere is it more important that a client can rely upon their solicitor to provide a good service than when in court, where a person’s freedom or livelihood can be at stake.

“While the majority of solicitors do a good job, we do hear comments that this is not always the case.

"We are keen to hear from as many people as possible about our proposals to make sure that the advocacy done by solicitors meets our high standards.”

Recent SRA survey-based research published alongside the consultation suggests that one in three solicitor firms (32 per cent) offer criminal advocacy, mostly focusing on guilty plea and sentencing hearings.

Nearly 60 per cent of firms provide advocacy services for civil cases, 47 per cent in areas of family law and 32 per cent at tribunals.

In total 6,764 solicitors across England and Wales hold the higher rights of audience qualification. The survey found nearly a quarter of those polled had never undertaken advocacy in a higher court.

Overall most firms and solicitors felt standards of solicitor advocacy had improved or stayed largely the same over the past 10 years, but they did express concern at the cost and availability of training in this area.

The deadline for submission of responses is 13 November 2019.

Categorised in:

Technical legal practice Litigation