I read each week with growing dismay about the long-running saga of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates. This misconceived and unwelcome intrusion into the liberties of our profession may one day restrict, if not deny, our hard-won rights of audience in the higher courts.
After establishment of the Crown courts by the Courts Act 1971, I regularly exercised my newly granted right of audience on appeals from the magistrates’ courts, but not in jury trials. However, there has always been an exception to that rule. Some of your older readers may be familiar with the ancient right of solicitors to exercise a right of audience at the quarter sessions and assizes held at Caernarvon, Barnstaple, Bodmin, Doncaster and Lincoln based on the fact that there was no local bar.
It was my privilege in the late 1980s, therefore, in addition to the statutory right granted by the Courts Act, to conduct a number of jury trials at Caernarvon. Members of the bar must serve a six-month pupillage before appearing before the courts. I spent many years in the magistrates’ courts, conducted appeals in the Crown court and sat behind counsel conducting jury trials before risking a client’s liberty before a jury.
I had ‘served my time’ and, when the opportunity arose, I judged myself fit to represent the interests of my clients and had no need of any quality assurance schemes. Many tales have I to tell of obstruction by some members of the bar and the bench.
Now, after 45 years as a solicitor, with all the experience of life that such professional qualification brings, I am told that those rights of audience and the reward for my persistence and perseverance may now be arbitrarily curtailed. It simply beggars belief.
David Kirwan, higher courts advocate (crime and civil), senior partner, Kirwans Solicitors, Merseyside