Max Hill QC’s recent letter to the Gazette in reply to comments made by solicitors’ representatives highlights the schism between the two branches of a single profession.

Like barristers, solicitors are struggling with adverse conditions, but they are also finding it difficult to trust the bar’s motives. The latter’s call on judges to ‘halt solicitor abuse of QASA and plea-only advocates’, the Bar Standard Board’s description of solicitors as ‘superfluous intermediaries’ and the suggestion that solicitors are improperly withholding/delaying payments to barristers only serves to rub salt into the wound that was first inflicted in the days of Lord Carter (when the bar positively endorsed the introduction of the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme despite serious opposition by solicitors and promoted the extension/implementation of a graduated fee scheme to litigators undertaking very high-cost cases).

The self-employed criminal bar is using the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates as a ‘turf war’, but it needs to be seen in the much broader context of a battlefield with multiple fronts, including the bar extending its direct access scheme and the proliferation of barristers training to be duty solicitors. All of this is lawful competition and the march towards a fused profession seems unstoppable.

The fact is that the proper functioning of the adversarial system and justice requires both litigation and advocacy skills, and access to those skills across the whole country needs proper and consistent funding. The current configuration of criminal legal services has many features that should be sustained and nourished (I personally support a niche advocacy bar). For every barrister facing problems there is a criminal solicitor facing redundancy - what is unhelpful to the debate is the narrow self-interest of one group of stakeholders being promoted above the wider interests of clients and all those involved in delivering quality and justice.

Jim Meyer, president, London Criminal Courts’ Solicitors Association