A row is brewing between the two main legal professions with criminal solicitors accusing the Bar Council of ‘self-interested, hubristic triumphalism’ in its response to a report that revealed quality problems with advocacy.
A joint statement issued by the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association welcomed Sir Bill Jeffrey’s review of criminal advocacy and said the groups are ‘completely committed’ to raising solicitors’ standards of advocacy.
In contrast they accused the Bar Council of pursuing its ‘own narrow self-interested agenda’ in its own response to the Jeffrey review.
The solicitors’ groups accepted that their members could benefit from greater advocacy training and said they will co-operate with the government, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Law Society to ensure the ‘highest possible standards’ are achieved.
They criticised the ‘entirely preposterous entirely self-interested hubristic triumphalism’ that they accused the Bar Council of showing in its response to the review.
The CLSA and LCCSA said the bar’s attitude is ‘to be regretted’ and will be ‘short-lived’ as the solicitors’ profession ‘rapidly embraces and adapts to change’. Jeffrey (pictured) highlighted quality concerns among both professions, but said barristers were losing work to less well-trained solicitor-advocates, who kept work within their firms for commercial reasons.
In its response to the review, the Bar Council highlighted, among other things, the following findings:
- Barristers are ‘manifestly better trained’ as specialist advocates than solicitors;
- To be called to the bar, a barrister needs to have completed 120 days of advocacy training. By contrast, a solicitor can be accredited to practise in the Crown court with as few as 22 hours of such training;
- On Jeffrey’s visits to the Crown courts, the ‘main area of concern’ among judges was the ‘relatively inexperienced solicitor-advocates being fielded by their firms (for what were presumed to be commercial reasons) in cases beyond their capacity’;
- Despite the fact that barristers are better trained and are not being beaten on price or quality, they are receiving a diminishing share of Crown court work;
- Some defence solicitors (who wish to use an in-house advocate in the event of a guilty plea) and the Crown Prosecution Service (which has a practice of waiting until after the plea and case management hearing) delay the assignment of trial advocates, affecting the preparation and conduct of the trial.
Nicholas Lavender QC, chairman of the bar, hit back with a statement that he was 'surprised by some of the language used by the CLSA and LCCSA in their media statement... which can only serve to distract attention from a matter of real public concern'.
He said the bar's concern was that the market 'should work properly with competition based on quality and the best advocates being chosen by clients, with the help of advice from their solicitors. That is in the public interest'.