Core witness-handling skills will be tested in new affordable advocacy training.
The quality of advocacy ensures that the justice system functions correctly and is central to the rule of law. And the quality of legal representation in our courts makes this jurisdiction the most respected in the world.
The Law Society wholeheartedly supports the principle that advocates of the highest quality must be available for defendants. We are therefore committed to helping our members maintain and develop their skills, demonstrating continuing competence, ensuring that standards of advocacy are upheld.
The vast majority of solicitor higher-courts advocates have been practising in the magistrates’ and higher courts for some years and have significant skills and experience. Solicitors provide vital support and continuity at a time of stress for clients, and have a first-hand understanding of an individual’s previous history and any ongoing matters.
Solicitor-advocates continue to do incredibly important work to a very high standard in the face of cuts to funding and court closures – yet questions are raised over their competence. Our members are not given proper credit.
I have said before that I want to make certain that the Law Society uses its resources to support solicitors in order that they can maintain their deserved reputation for providing high-quality publicly funded defence advocacy and are recognised and distinguished from other advocates.
We want to ensure solicitors have a competitive advantage and are supportive of a consistent level of high-quality advocacy. We therefore consulted our members in order to obtain their views on the advocacy training currently available to them. They told us that it is very difficult to find affordable, high-quality interactive advocacy training. The increased overheads and small groups necessary for such participatory training mean that many commercial providers are not interested in getting involved.
For that reason, we have collaborated with City Law School and the Youth Justice Legal Centre to develop structured training courses tailored for our members who practise in the criminal courts.
Feedback from practitioners highlighted three areas where more training would be helpful: at the point of qualification, when transitioning to work in the higher courts, and also in relation to specialist areas such as youth advocacy.
We have therefore developed two courses with City Law School and one with the Youth Justice Legal Centre, which is part of the well-known children’s charity Just for Kids Law.
The Essential Criminal Advocacy training course will be run in the context of a trial in the magistrates’ court and will include witness handling and cross-examination exercises. As requested by practitioners, the one-day course will utilise the Hampel method to enable participants to practise their skills. The course will cost £395 and will initially be available from February in London and Manchester, but we will respond to demand and add new locations where necessary.
The Advanced Criminal Advocacy training course is aimed at experienced, senior practitioners, and will be run in the context of a Crown court trial, with delegates being tested on their core witness handling skills in a context that demands a highly technical application of those skills. The price and locations are the same for the Essential Criminal Advocacy course, and participant numbers will be restricted to ensure a high-quality training experience.
The Youth Justice Advocacy course will provide essential training for all solicitors who will be appearing in the youth court. This is an increasingly well-recognised area of specialism and this course will highlight the differences in knowledge and skills needed for the youth court.
Finally, the Law Society will also be offering the advocacy and vulnerable training developed by a pan-professional working group of practitioners led by Judge Rook.
Robert Bourns is Law Society president