Solicitor advocates are not obliged to take on a case where their firm has struggled to find a barrister who is not protesting against the government's legal aid reforms, the Law Society has reiterated.
Criminal barristers are declining to take on work with a representative order dated 1 April onwards in response to reforms to the advocates' graduated fee scheme.
Chancery Lane has issued updated guidance, addressing a note issued by resident judges of the northern circuit to help defendants and ensure proceedings run smoothly. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has told solicitors they must make 'proper efforts' to find a replacement advocate to ensure they are complying with the regulator's code of conduct.
Having seen the judges' note, the Society says it 'would like to reiterate that we do not consider that the unavailability of counsel - for whatever reason - creates an obligation on a solicitor-advocate in the instructing firm to take over any of the formerly instructed barrister's responsibilities, if they do not feel competent to do so. Nor is there an obligation in any new cases to take on the advocacy if an external advocate cannot be found'.
According to Chancery Lane, the judges' note indicates that all defence solicitors attending a pre-trial preparation hearing will be permitted to address the court and engage in the hearing process.
The guidance states: 'In a situation where the court grants such blanket permission to address the court due to the unavailability of counsel, each solicitor should consider whether he or she is capable of providing the advocacy in the circumstances... and whether it is appropriate to make themselves available under the blanket grant of permission.
'In complex cases or those where the consequences of poor advocacy for the client could be an issue, the solicitor would need to weigh the matter up with great care. In some cases it may more appropriate to try to find a suitable advocate.'
The Criminal Bar Association and circuit leaders insist they want to resolve the latest standoff and have requested an urgent meeting with the government to discuss their proposals.