Sir Bill Jeffrey was commissioned by the Justice Secretary to undertake a review of the provision of independent criminal advocacy services. The Review was published on 7 May 2014. The terms of reference did not include consideration of remuneration rates for criminal advocacy or the requirements of public funding and Sir Bill gives his own view that ‘legal aid fee rates are neither the whole story nor none of it’. The Review instead focuses on other factors: standards, quality, training, the market and supply of criminal advocates.
In his recommendations Sir Bill urges the professions to recognise the changes in the advocacy market and to adapt to them. The recommendations include the development over time of a common (meaning for barristers and solicitor advocates) training expectation for those practising advocacy in the Crown Court; a common minimum expectations for continuous professional development training (CPD) for advocates in the Crown Court; the adoption of a ticketing system for defence advocates much the same as the CPS and Judges have for dealing with sexual offences; and regulatory provisions relating to the assignment of advocates; the Legal Aid Agency keeping a list of approved defence advocates for publicly funded work in the Crown Court; future contracts for legal aid work to separate police station representation from post charge representation. The Review also considered the impact of Crown Court listing practices on quality advocacy and that further research and data would assist future developments
The changing landscape of the criminal advocacy market has led to headlines of ‘solicitor advocates squeezing barristers’. The report reproduces some data available, whilst noting the absence of data generally, that ‘There has been a marked shift in the distribution of advocacy work in the Crown Court between the two sides of the profession. There are many more solicitor advocates than there were in the years following the liberalisation of rights of audience. Between 2005-06 and 2012-13, the percentage of publicly funded cases in which the defence was conducted by a solicitor advocate rose from 4% to 24% of contested trials and from 6% to 40% of guilty pleas. Both figures are on a rising trend. In 2012-2013, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in-house lawyers led the prosecution in approximately 45% of Crown Court trials.’
SAHCA noted Sir Bill Jeffrey's analysis of the increase in representation by Solicitor-Advocates and that there is "no hard research evidence on the quality of advocacy" but rather that criticism of advocates appears to be based solely upon anecdote. SAHCA supports Sir Bill's view, which it has long professed, that there should be mandatory advocacy training for solicitor advocates as part of their annual CPD requirements to help ensure quality in advocacy.
SAHCA is also gratified to note, and agree with Sir Bill's statement, that, "Attempting to turn the clock back ... would be neither feasible nor desirable. Solicitor advocates are a valuable and established part of the scene. The sensible approach is to invest in their skills and professionalism."
SAHCA is more than willing to assist others in the profession to create a common approach building on the "excellent work" Sir Bill references it has already done in his fifth recommendation and will continue to provide what he described in paragraph 3.7 as "impressive training