Solicitor advocates have denounced the regulator’s suggestion that only solicitors holding a revised higher rights of audience qualification should practise advocacy in serious youth court cases.

Last week the Solicitors Regulation Authority published a consultation on advocacy standards with proposals ‘to make sure that high standards of advocacy are provided by solicitors’.

The SRA proposed a single, centralised higher rights of audience assessment and suggested youth court solicitors be required to pass the test before acting as advocates in cases that would go to Crown court if brought against an adult.

At the moment, solicitors do not need a higher rights of audience qualification to act as advocates in youth courts. Those who currently hold the qualification would not need to sit the revised test. 

Adam Tear, chair of the Solicitors’ Association of Higher Courts Advocates (SAHCA), criticised the consultation for its lack of evidence and its reliance on bar reports.

He said: ‘If evidence is to be found it is from consumers of legal services, members of the public. The truth seems to be that [the SRA] is either not looking for robust evidence, or there is none to prop up the pre-determined decision that solicitor advocates are not as good as members of the bar.’

He added: ‘SAHCA remains concerned by the underlying issue of prejudice against solicitor advocates. The bar remains the focus of government, and continues to receive preferential treatment, even by the SRA.’

According to the consultation, the SRA received only 89 complaints from judges and courts regarding poor advocacy from January 2015 to February 2018. Of these, only 3% specifically related to a solicitor’s competence.

SAHCA intends to publish a formal response to the SRA’s consultation later today.