SRA to ask if solicitors contribute to ‘decline in criminal advocacy’

Topics: Advocacy,Criminal justice,Regulation and compliance

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to investigate whether solicitors are contributing to a decline in criminal advocacy.

A research project will ask the courts, practitioners and their clients whether solicitors and advocates for the Crown Prosecution Service are ‘working beyond their level of competence’.

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The review will also look at whether there is a perception that law firms are retaining work in-house that is beyond their competence.

Other issues that the SRA will address include factors affecting a client's choice of advocate and solicitor behaviours related to the ban on referral fees. A report will be completed in spring.

The review follows a consultation by the Ministry of Justice on enhancing the quality of criminal advocacy. As part of the consultation the MoJ said it would consider a ban on litigators from instructing advocates, a statutory ban on referral fees and a publicly funded panel scheme for criminal defence advocates.

It also comes ahead of the implementation of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), which is designed to regulate the quality of criminal advocates. 

The SRA’s research into criminal practice is part of a wider research programme, which will also assess the competence of solicitors doing personal injury work, the value of training contracts and work-based experience and the representation of vulnerable consumers. 

Meanwhile the Bar Council has warned barristers against agreeing to do work for law firms in the magistrates' courts for no fee in return for instructions for Crown court work. The bar said that this could be a breach of the ban on referral fees.

It said that in these cases firms often approach chambers on the basis that no payment is available.

But the Bar Council said it is ‘wrong to suggest that no fee is available for this work’, and said that a fee should be agreed between the solicitor and counsel’s clerk when such instructions are accepted.

Readers' comments (29)

  • 'Meanwhile the Bar Council has warned barristers against agreeing to do work for law firms in the magistrates' courts for no fee in return for instructions for Crown court work. The bar said that this could be a breach of the ban on referral fees'.

    Well is it OR isn't it?? And If they don't know, then who does??

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  • This is the sort of project which lends weight to the view that the SRA is overstaffed over zealous and desperate to justify the preservation of its regulatory empire.

    I recall at the birth of this fundamentalist regulator that the Law Society President at the time had received indications that regulation would be "light touch"

    I cannot conceive of a more intrusive project to antagonise an already embittered group of dedicated professionals.

    This body is ruining legal practice and corroding what is left of altruism in the legal profession.

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  • Presumably after frittering away many ££ of our PC fees on learned professors to report on this, the answer will be that if there is a decline in standards it is a direct result of the lamentable fees paid under the legal aid regime.

    And seeing that is not going to change, what was the point of this research in the first place...?

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  • The decline in standards of criminal advocacy is not predicated on the advocate's label but on his/her skill, experience and aptitude. Those who score highly on these factors have been eroded from being able to practice criminal law full-time. I still do some, but it is almost like community service, subsidised from the areas of my practice that actually pay, but are far less exacting

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  • I could understand if this review was called for by the Bar Council - but for our own regulator to go looking to identify a "perception" is shocking. That means that there is not a perception that has resulted in an investigation, but an investigation that is looking for a perception so that we can then be castigated.

    I am genuinely floored by this threat to the profession from the over-paid, over-staffed regulatory desperate to ruin those it regulates.

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  • "enhancing the quality of criminal advocacy" by paying fair costs so that advocates do not have to have such a huge case load to make a living wage. Or, as Mark Smith has explained, allow advocates the ability to concentrate on that area rather than subsidising it with other areas of law.

    I am not a criminal lawyer, I am just someone who is sick of the government cutting fees and continue to expect gold standard.

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  • Is there evidence that criminal advocacy standards have declined?
    How has this been measured?
    Why is the assumption (as the article suggests) that solicitors are to blame?
    Or are we giving too much credence to crusty judges again?

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  • So here we have the perfect illustration of the woes of the modern legal profession.
    The SRA, the body that supervises solicitors, decides that it is appropriate to engage in what looks like gratuitous solicitor bashing. Seeking out "perceptions" is not a useful activity.
    The Law Society has again decided that the qualification of being a solicitor is of no value, but that practitioners must but an additional "Quality Mark" to show that they are half competent.
    The spectre of referral fees again appears. I will continue to assert that ALL referral fees (in every walk of life) are bribes and should not only be banned, but seen as criminal. My usual comparison is to the medical profession. Who would like to be referred by their GP to a specialist on the basis of the payment the GP was getting in return for the referral?
    Then there is the issue of a fair level of fees (as true in criminal work as other legal fields ). The criminal practitioners have to work hard, with difficult clients for precious little remuneration, and in return for their hard work they receive nothing but criticism from HMG and others.
    It makes me weep.

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  • Modesty drives me to anonymity. I am a solicitor. I have led the defence in 9 murder cases. Won 6 lost 3. The acquittal rate nationally was last measured at only 16.6% in homicide full jury trials. When I lose a case it is because I am a solicitor. When I win a case no one says anything about my status! All this perception nonsense is pure prejudice - rooted frankly in vestiges of class war.

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  • I agree with Mr Newbery.

    Is there a decline in criminal advocacy? By reference to what criteria is that assertion being made? Fewer acquittals?

    How is anyone going to measure this?

    It's complete nonsense driven by another impractical MoJ bright idea, probably from the Grayling playbook.

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