SRA opens consultation: Assuring advocacy standards

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is consulting until 13 November 2019 on proposals aimed at improving civil and criminal advocacy standards and the way in which the SRA regulates advocacy.

Access the consultation paper

Key proposals

Revision of Higher Court Advocacy arrangements

This includes:

  • updating the advocacy standards so that they better reflect modern practice, including awareness of the needs of vulnerable clients and witnesses
  • the introduction of a single, centralised assessment, to ensure consistency
  • requiring that Higher Rights Advocacy (HRA) assessment is taken post-admission, rather than as an elective course on the PSC
  • a new requirement for youth courts solicitors acting in more serious cases to hold the HRA qualification. This would apply to any case that would go to the Crown Court if it involved an adult.

Abandoning definitively the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA)

The paper states that the SRA no longer consider QASA ‘fit for purpose or in line with our current regulatory approach’.

Providing resources to help solicitors meet the standards

This will include:

  • building on the content of the Youth Courts Tool Kit, to be launched in spring 2020
  • undertaking ‘research and engagement with a wide range of stakeholders’
  • ensuring the standards are clear and accessible
  • developing targeted resources which focus on ‘specific areas of concern’
  • developing resources for the ‘public and other stakeholders’ that explain the advocacy standards ‘expected of solicitors’
  • encouraging ‘consumers’ to report concerns about advocacy to the SRA, which will be published as ‘aggregated and anonymised data’

Our initial views

While it is disappointing to see reference to anecdotal complaints about solicitor advocacy, we welcome the SRA’s emphasis on ensuring robust standards for the award of higher rights, and on providing support and materials to help solicitors improve quality.

This is far more likely to achieve an improvement in standards than a more punitive approach.

Feedback from clients has its place, but clients are not always in the best position to judge whether their lawyer did a good job or not, particularly where they have been convicted despite their solicitor doing the best they possibly could have done.

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

We welcome the decision that QASA is not the way ahead. Whatever the pros and cons around it, the uncertainty has been unhelpful, and it is good to see it brought to an end.

What the proposals could mean for solicitor-advocates

No change is proposed to who can practise advocacy in the magistrates’ court. Solicitors are still obliged under the SRA code of conduct to ensure that they only undertake work which they are competent to perform.

In future everyone wishing to obtain the HRA qualification will need to go through the same training provider and assessment process.

In future the HRA assessment process may only be undertaken by admitted solicitors.

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 Youth Courts tool kit and other online resources will be developed and will be available from spring 2020.

The SRA will be making it easier to report solicitors who may be perceived not to meet the correct standards (as set out in the SRA ‘Statement of Solicitor Competence’).

Next steps

The consultation closes on 13 November 2019.

We will be responding in detail to the proposals, and we strongly urge all solicitor advocates to read the consultation paper carefully – including the impact assessment and the Annexes – and to submit a response themselves.

Give feedback to the consultation

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