The Jeffrey review is very well written in language which indicates a real understanding of life at the bar. It merits close analysis and reasoned debate because in many respects it is very supportive of our existence and appears to want a more stable future for the bar.
I want to concentrate in this blog on part of his proposals for joint legal education.
His prelude is an acceptance of the concern of many Judges, including former solicitors, on falling standards in court. This is the elephant in the room. It is not universal: specifically I know of one really outstanding senior solicitor advocate as good as any advocate and on the other side, barristers who fail to impress in a way which frankly embarrases. But few would disagree with the premise of falling standards.
Sir Bill contrasts the 22 hours minimum of advocacy training after which it is to which it is possible to be a solicitor advocate with the 120 hours minimum at the bar. In polite and tactful language, he finds this hard to justify. He is quite right. He goes on to suggest a common training which would increase the hours for solicitors without reaching the level required for the bar. He seeks a common training approach or ‘expectation.’
At which point a nettle must be grasped. The very last thing the bar must do is to lower its standards. At the same time, the idea of common advocacy training has much to commend it if you take the non partisan view that the public would be best served by higher standards across the board. So the price of common training must be better trained solicitor advocates competing more effectively across the whole range of criminal work.
Is the bar ready for this? Will it lead inevitably in time to fusion?
Well perhaps the time has come for an idea that I have been pressing for some months.
A new College of Advocacy which promotes the concept of lifelong advocacy training and combines the excellent training of the Inns and the circuits in a structured form, with regional centres to pursue it. It would mirror the compulsory JSB training format. You would have to attend regularly to practise. It might well have an internal competitive element.
Now it must be in the public interest to have higher standards of advocacy around. We owe it to the victims and the punters. So a College of Advocacy logically should be open to all seeking to address the higher courts. The consequence would be greater pressure for fusion, but it does not follow inevitably. The College could promote specific courses for higher specialist advocacy, which would not be the choice of all. In short, there would be a continuing need for a specialist referral profession, but the door would be open to excellence on both sides of the profession.
In short, there is a brave new world out there if we are big enough to accept change. Change and survive or wither on the vine.
Nigel Pascoe QC