02 March 2012


Judicial evaluation of advocates in criminal courts essential for consumer protection


The Bar Standards Board, the lead regulator for courtroom advocates in England and Wales, has called on fellow regulators to join with it in pressing ahead with an innovative scheme to maintain and improve standards of advocacy.


The quality assurance scheme would encompass the 6,000 criminal barristers the BSB regulates and would be open to the smaller numbers of other advocates regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards.


The BSB is pressing for the introduction of a scheme that will be simple to operate and help courts work better. The Board has been working with the SRA, ILEX PS and the Legal Services Board in the Joint Advocacy Group formed with the  intention to develop and implement such standards.


However, the BSB has become concerned that last minute proposals by the SRA may allow judicial evaluation to be bypassed. The BSB believes that judicial evaluation is an essential guarantee for the consumer and one which places the public interest at the heart of the scheme. Advocates should be assessed in real life situations by judges who have the skills to evaluate the quality of the advocacy before them.


The BSB wants a basic scheme that will see all criminal advocates graded at four levels, with level 1 being the most junior, and level 4 the most senior. Barristers and other advocates will apply to be graded according to their trial experience. This scheme will complement and support a similar system operated by the Crown Prosecution Service.


Judges - who rely on good advocacy to make the courts work well - will be asked to support the new scheme with evaluation of the performance of all advocates and measures will be put in place to help those who fall short to improve.


Commenting on the new quality standard initiative - which the BSB wants to see introduced this year - Baroness Deech, BSB Chair, said:


"We are the majority regulator for advocates in England and Wales, and as such we take very seriously our duties to the public, to victims and their families and to others in the courts to assure the best possible standards of advocacy.


"We are keen to see a simple, unbureaucratic and workable quality scheme brought in as soon as possible. That is what we are urging the minority advocacy regulators to join us in; a scheme that will quickly benefit the public and courts and provide consumers with the reassurance that their advocate has faced robust judicial evaluation."


Baroness Deech added:


"The overwhelming majority of advocates provide an excellent service in the courts, day in day out, in difficult cases for modest reward. But more can always be done to provide the assurance of quality that the public is entitled to expect, and to help in the minority of cases where standards fall short.


"The Bar is often seen as a traditional profession, but it is in fact embracing quality assurance in the public interest. It is time for the minority advocacy regulators to join us in doing so."


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