Solicitor-Advocates Blasted Over Alleged Incompetence

From the Law Society Gazette 23.04.09:

An extraordinary public row has erupted over the role of solicitor-advocates after a Crown Court judge told a court that he came close to discharging a jury because of concerns that a solicitor lacked the competence to represent his client properly.

Speaking in open court at the end of a two-week criminal trial, Judge Gledhill QC (pictured) criticised the performance of three of the four solicitor higher court advocates in the case

One solicitor ‘addressed the jury directly’ on two occasions in cross examination, another ‘clearly had no idea what the rules of re-examination were’ and the jury was ‘misled about one of the defendants’ bad ­character’.

‘The list goes on and on,’ he said.

At one stage, Gledhill said, he was so concerned about the lack of experience and competence of one of the solicitors that he felt he might have to conclude the defendant was ‘not properly represented’ and discharge the jury. ‘Fortunately that stage was not reached,’ he said.

Gledhill said the solicitor in question had done his best but ‘his knowledge of the law, procedure and advocacy skills fell below that which is needed in this case’.

Oh dear. ‘Done his best’. Hmmm.... ‘Never mind, Old Boy – you tried’. Sounds something like a pompous parent would say to his child after a disappointing performance on a school sports day.

Quite frankly, I’ve always been a bit sceptical over this hybrid role for solicitors in England and Wales - if only for the problem of overcoming the disdain with which they are so clearly viewed by the bar and the judiciary. Like it or not, the view that ‘sol-ads’ are second-rate barristers is prevalent out there and I think it’s been remarkably clear for several years they have quite a battle on their hands to gain acceptability for their advocacy work. Whether it’s justified or not isn’t really the point, either. I would guess that more often than not, the lack of competence is more a perception than a reality but that doesn’t make the hurdle any easier to surmount.

Quite where an answer lies in helping solicitor-advocates gain greater recognition for the quality of their advocacy, I’m not sure. Answers on a postcard please.

And as for the faux pas in this case? Well, perhaps they’d been watching a bit too much Boston Legal!

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Comments

  1. I was just reading this case. It's really quiet damning of those particular solicitor advocates. Bits like: "some of your colleagues appeared to have little or no understanding of the rules of hearsay". Wah-waah/ doh as befits your comedy preferences.

    Damning of the entire system of solicitor advocates, do you think? Perhaps having two people on the case- a solicitor and a barrister insulates the client from the negligence of either, and similarly the solicitor's negligence may be mitigated, or covered up when it gets to barristers. If you're playing both, nowhere to hide!

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  2. Yeah, I agree, Mel - it's very damning for those in question and the system as a whole.

    Not quite sure where solicitor advocates go from here - with everything being as it is, how can they not be seen as second rate barristers?

    Good point about a solicitor and barrister watching over the other. Still, other jurisdictions have a fused legal profession and seem to make it work (relatively) well.

    I don't think this case flags up anything new - it just perpetuates the perception (warranted or otherwise) of solicitor-advocates. So the notion of 'Soliristers' or 'barrcitors' for England and Wales really taking off any time soon is about as dead in the water as ever I'd say.

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  3. http://www.wikicrimeline.co.uk/images/c/c9/Hcaresponse.pdf

    See their reply...

    5 HCA's? FIVE?????? Were they only five defendants? If so thats a HUGE proportion of HCA.

    I keep getting told to not go to the Criminal Bar, zey are taking over ya!

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  4. We have similar problems up here in Scotland with Solicitor Advocates. It wasn't all too long ago that our second most senior judge, The Lord Justice Clerk Lord Gill, condemned solicitor advocates at the conclusion of a criminal trial.

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  5. Solicitor Advocates aren't exactly the work of the Devil - he'd have done a better job, and created something more inspired and intelligently evil.
    No they are, I'm afraid, just the spawn of beancounting cost-cutters in Whitehall. Why bother paying for a trained and experienced professional to do the job when there are plenty of half-wits happy to step in and devalue the whole enterprise with their ham-fisted cock-ups? Afterall, surely there can't be too much to all this advocacy malarky? Can there?

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