Only solicitors holding a revised higher rights of audience qualification would be able to undertake advocacy in serious cases in the youth courts under proposals published for consultation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority today.
The consultation suggests that advocacy standards are back on the agenda following the bruising the SRA and other regulators received over their failed attempt to introduce the QASA quality assurance scheme. Today's document states that the SRA no longer considers QASA to be 'fit for purpose or in line with our current regulatory approach'.
The SRA also revealed that, in the three years to February 2018, it received 89 complaints from the judiciary about poor advocacy.
The regulator says its latest proposals are designed 'to make sure that high standards of advocacy are provided by solicitors'. In total 6,764 solicitors across England and Wales hold the current higher rights of audience qualification however an SRA survey found that nearly a quarter of those polled had never undertaken advocacy in a higher court.
The new proposals include creating a single, centralised assessment for higher rights of audience, revised standards for the higher rights of audience qualification and the development of more online resources to help solicitors maintain and develop advocacy skills.
The SRA is also proposing that in future only solicitors with the higher rights qualification should be able to undertake advocacy in more serious cases being conducted in the youth courts.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive said: 'While the majority of solicitors do a good job, we do hear comments that this is not always the case. We are keen to hear from as many people as possible about our proposals to make sure that the advocacy done by solicitors meets our high standards.'
SRA research published alongside the consultation suggests that one in three solicitor firms (32%) offer criminal advocacy, mostly focusing on guilty plea and sentencing hearings. Nearly 60% of firms provide advocacy services for civil cases, 47% in areas of family law and 32% at tribunals.
Overall most firms and solicitors felt standards of solicitor advocacy had improved or stayed largely the same over the past 10 years, but they expressed concern at the cost and availability of training.
The Law Society said it supported the principle of improving standards. 'Any changes that drive up standards and improve access to justice for the most vulnerable when they need legal support will be supported by the solicitor profession,' said David Greene, vice president. 'We welcome the opportunity to work with SRA to develop training resources for solicitor advocates to deliver their role as effectively as possible.'
The deadline for responses is 13 November.