Advocacy standards

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is reviewing how it can improve civil and criminal advocacy standards and the way in which it regulates advocacy.

Key proposals

Higher court advocacy arrangements

This includes:

  • updating advocacy standards to better reflect modern practice, including awareness of the needs of vulnerable clients and witnesses
  • introducing one centralised higher rights advocacy (HRA) assessment to be taken after you qualify as a solicitor, rather than during the Professional Skills Course. This is to ensure consistency, as currently several providers assess competence
  • requiring solicitors acting in more serious youth courts cases to have the higher rights qualification. This would apply to any case that would go to the Crown Court if it involved an adult

Providing resources for solicitors

This will include:

  • building on the content of the Youth Courts Tool Kit
  • developing resources on “specific areas of concern”, for example building trust with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) clients
  • developing resources for the public and other stakeholders that explain the advocacy standards expected of solicitor
  • encouraging consumers to report concerns about advocacy to the SRA, which will be published as aggregated and anonymised data

Abandoning the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA)

The SRA no longer considers QASA "fit for purpose or in line with our current regulatory approach."

Our view

We welcome the SRA’s emphasis on robust standards for higher rights qualification, and on providing support and materials to help solicitors improve the quality of their advocacy. We believe this is far more likely to improve standards than a more hardline approach.

Feedback from clients can be useful, but clients cannot always judge whether their lawyer did a good job or not, particularly if they’ve been convicted despite their solicitor’s best efforts.

We would not object to client feedback being used to identify potential training needs, within a culture of improvement rather than sanctions.

We welcome the decision to abandon QASA, ending the uncertainty around it.

What the proposals could mean for solicitor advocates

Those who can practise advocacy in the magistrates’ court will not be affected. Under the SRA Code of Conduct, solicitors still must only take on work which they’re competent to carry out.

In future only admitted solicitors can work towards the HRA qualification. They will all need to go through the same training provider and assessment process. Solicitors practising in the youth courts will be required to hold the criminal HRA qualification where they are acting as an advocate in any case which would go to the Crown Court if it involved an adult.

The SRA will make it easier to report solicitors who do not seem to be meeting the standards under the SRA statement of solicitor competence.

What we’re doing

November 2019 – we responded to the SRA consultation on assuring advocacy standards.