20 August 2019

Regulators publish reports into criminal advocacy standards

Barristers and solicitor advocates representing clients in criminal courts are generally delivering a competent service to the public, two reports released last month have found.

Published by the BSB and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the first report explores the views of the judiciary on the current quality, provision and regulation of advocacy within the criminal courts.

Jointly commissioned with the BSB and produced by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research of Birkbeck, University of London, the Judicial Perceptions Report, involved in-depth interviews with 50 High Court and circuit judges.

Alongside this the SRA's Thematic Review of Criminal Advocacy, was informed by data gathering and interviews with 40 solicitors' firms actively involved in providing advocacy by solicitors within the courts.

Overall the two reports suggested that while the quality of advocacy was generally meeting the required standards, there were some examples of poor advocacy.

Key findings of the jointly commissioned judicial research included:

  • While judges viewed the current quality of advocacy as competent, some felt that standards were declining in some areas, especially in relation to core courtroom skills such as case preparation and dealing with some witnesses.
  • Advocates' skills in dealing with young and vulnerable witnesses are largely improving.
  • The most commonly cited barrier to high quality advocacy was advocates taking on cases beyond their level of experience.
  • Judges were uncertain over when, and how, they should report poor advocacy to regulators.

Key findings of the SRA's thematic review included:

  • Firms use in-house solicitors to support the vast majority of criminal work in magistrates' courts and youth courts (90 percent), and 29 percent of work in the Crown Court.
  • The solicitors' advocacy market is dominated by smaller firms and increasingly ageing individuals, while the number of new entrants to the market is falling.
  • Levels of complaints regarding advocacy work are relatively low (22 recorded complaints in two years across all 40 sample firms).
  • Approaches to training are inconsistent, with its delivery often infrequent, limited or not planned.

Building upon the findings of both reports the SRA will be undertaking further work to understand the work of solicitor advocates.  We have also published our strategy for assuring the quality of advocacy.