Barristers should no longer use youth courts as a forum for ‘practising advocacy’ and cases should be treated as seriously as those involving adults, the barristers’ regulator has said.
The Bar Standards Board has published new guidelines for youth court advocacy as part of measures to improve standards.
The guidance, for all barristers working in youth proceedings, includes a set of essential competences expected of all advocates working with young people.
Publication follows a dispute over the wording of the guidelines, reported last week in the Gazette. Board members differed over whether the guidelines should ask advocates to ‘empathise’ and ‘understand’ clients from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Judith Farbey QC, board member and a member of Doughty Street Chambers, told the meeting that she felt ‘very strongly’ over the words ‘empathy’ and ‘understand’. ‘Empathy and understanding are not part of being a barrister,’ she said at the time, adding that it is not a barrister’s job to be empathetic.
In the BSB’s final guidelines, published on Friday, those terms were removed and replaced with a requirement to demonstrate ‘emotional intelligence’ to communicate effectively. The guidelines also encourage barristers to speak in a ‘clear and concise’ manner and use plain English.
The BSB will involve introduce compulsory registration later in the year for barristers practising in youth courts. The regulator said it believes this work is a priority, given the ‘variable standards of advocacy within the youth courts, and the vulnerability of the young people involved’.
Speaking to the Gazette, Oliver Hanmer, director of regulatory assurance at the BSB, said the regulator wanted to make ‘youth justice an area of specialism’.
‘Previously, members of the bar were going to youth courts as a place to practise advocacy and young people have been left as bystanders,’ Hanmer said.
He added that more and more serious cases were ending up at youth courts and that the level of service should be on a par with adult courts.
Hanmer added: ‘There is overwhelming support for further regulation in the interests of vulnerable young people in the justice system.
‘We believe we have devised a proportionate approach to regulation which ensures that these young people can receive the quality of advocacy that they need whilst also recognising the demands that practising in the youth courts presents.’
The guidance was recommended following a review of the youth justice system in December last year which suggested improvements to the system.