The Criminal Bar Association will launch a campaign on Monday aimed at ‘levelling the playing field’ between barristers and solicitor-advocates, who it alleges enjoy an unfair competitive advantage.
Tony Cross QC, chair of the CBA, told a Bar Conference session highlighting the great criminal barristers of yesteryear that today’s junior barristers are being denied access to the cases that would enable them to become tomorrow’s QCs and judges because of a damaging imbalance in practising rules.
Cross (pictured) alluded to a report on criminal advocacy earlier this year by Sir Bill Jeffrey, which noted a ‘marked shift’ in the distribution of advocacy work in the Crown court away from the bar, with ‘many more solicitor-advocates than there were in the years following the liberalisation of the rights of audience’.
Jeffrey also highlighted the fact that a barrister needs to have completed 120 days of advocacy training, whereas a solicitor can be accredited to practise in the Crown court with as few as 22 hours’ of such training.
Jeffrey added: ‘The group of providers who are manifestly better trained as specialist advocates are taking a diminishing share of the work, and are being beaten neither on price nor on quality.’
Cross told the Gazette afterwards that the CBA’s campaign will demand that the ‘playing field be levelled’ so that barristers have the same opportunities to compete for work as HCAs. The association will also call on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to ban fee-sharing between HCAs and solicitor partners, which the bar argues favours solicitor-advocates over barristers.
Cross, of Garden Court Chambers, said the campaign will also draw on a 2010 report commissioned by the Law Society from consultant Nick Smedley, which described the training arrangements for solicitor-advocates as ‘not fit for purpose’.
Smedley urged the Society to take ‘immediate steps’ to address these issues, in particular by establishing a new advocacy accreditation scheme for HCAs and an academy for solicitor-advocates. Post-qualification, Smedley said, HCAs should be mentored during their first three years in practice, with mandatory continuing professional development advocacy skills training, and a minimum number of ‘flying hours’ prescribed to outlaw what he called the phenomenon of the ‘occasional HCA’.
Cross declined to comment on the uncertain future of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates, after an appeal by barristers against the decision to proceed with the scheme was dismissed earlier this month.
However, even though in 2012 the Law Society launched its own specialist Advocacy Section, Cross maintained that the consultant’s near four-year-old recommendations had been largely ignored.