In light of the consultation on Enhancing the Quality of Criminal Advocacy, which closes on 20 November, I would like to relate one of my experiences as an advocate in the High Court long before the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 created HCAs.
From 1972, when assizes and quarter sessions were abolished, I took every opportunity to assert my rights as a solicitor-advocate, conducting appeals at the newly created Crown courts, even the odd jury trial at Caernarvon, then exempt from the practice barring solicitor-advocates. There was no local bar within 25 miles.
I recall one appeal at Chester Crown Court in the early 1980s before a well-known circuit judge, who evidently entertained a poor opinion of solicitors ‘poaching’ the rights of the junior criminal bar. On the second day of the case, the judge ordered me to retire from the second row and to conduct my advocacy from the third row, which he disdainfully observed was reserved for ‘instructing solicitors’.
I give credit to the Chester counsel prosecuting, for he privately expressed his regret to me on the part of the bar.
I duly complained to the lord chief justice about the behaviour of this judge. To my surprise the response was a practice direction handed down two weeks later authorising solicitors engaged in advocacy in the Crown courts to conduct their cases alongside junior counsel, namely on the second row; the first of course being reserved (as we know) for ‘silks’.
So let us remember with pride, therefore, that we HCAs are not a creature of recent naissance and our rights as advocates are steeped in traditions not unlike those jealously guarded by the bar.
David Kirwan, HCA (civil and crime), Merseyside