We speak to this year’s winner of the Solicitor Advocate of the Year Award, Adam Tear, about his predictions for the year ahead.
Public Law director and solicitor at Duncan Lewis Solicitors in Harrow, Adam Tear was named Solicitor Advocate of the Year 2014 at the Law Society’s Excellence Awards on 9 October. He speaks to the Law Society's Duncan Wood about the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), exceptional funding, and why paper advocacy will be under the spotlight in 2015.
What have been your professional highlights in 2014?
Aside from winning the Award, I have just finished a four-day exceptional funding case in the Court of Appeal that challenged the MOJ’s policy of restricting legal aid to anything other than truly exceptional cases. The case will almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court. Much of my time for the remainder of 2014 and going into 2015 will be spent in the High Court arguing on the finer detail about where exceptional funding falls on the scale. Sir James Munby has recently criticised the lack of funding in family cases; indeed, the Family Court recently dealt with a horrific situation in which an illiterate woman had to argue against an advocate in relation to the welfare of her children. These sorts of cases are going to be increasingly tested - exceptional funding is going to move away from immigration trials and become more family-focused.
What are the major challenges facing advocates in 2014?
Well, QASA may seem a good idea on paper, but there are stronger alternatives. Surely it would be better to have an external assessment process, rather than effectively basing assessment subjectively on how well the judge got on with the advocate? I’ve seen cases where the advocate has had an exceptional falling out with the judge; the judge wants to go down one route, but has been persuaded otherwise by the advocate. In those cases, the advocate might receive a low rating from the judge simply because they stood their ground.
QASA will get rid of the type of solicitor advocate that only takes on plea cases and not full hearings. In one sense, this is a good thing in that it will make advocates adopt a more aggressive approach towards their caseload and look for cases that need to be won - this will make them a better advocate, with broader skills, on those terms. But the best trial advocates invariably go and do simple hearings. You need a wide spectrum of advocates working in the system and that’s going to be lost if QASA goes ahead.
What are your predictions for advocacy in 2015?
We are going to see a lot more focus on ‘paper’ advocacy. The courts are under pressure to reduce both costs and the length of trials, so there is going to be greater emphasis placed on trying to avoid advocates being stood on their feet for long periods of time and a renewed focus on the court papers. The Court of Appeal has already given several recent reminders, to myself included, on the importance of concise skeleton arguments. The courts will want to focus on the narrow issues and dispatch the case a lot quicker than they have been.
I also imagine that the application of QASA - or at least some sort of advocate assessment process - will move across from criminal into civil advocacy. It’s the way advocacy works, and ties in with the general drive for increased efficiency and value for money in the way cases are run.
What advice do you have for solicitor advocates?
Solicitor advocates should push themselves forward the best they can, ensuring they are performing to the highest standards at all times. Do not ever give the court any reason to doubt you or the quality of your advocacy.