The regulator of chartered legal executives has rejected warnings from barristers of a “deskilled” advocacy profession with a “third and lower tier”, if it goes ahead with granting higher rights of audience.
CILEx Regulation Ltd (CRL), which last week applied to the Legal Services Board (LSB) for the power to award the rights, said the standards it had created were “mapped” to those of solicitor advocates.
The strength of opposition to the move from both the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and Bar Council is clear from their responses to a consultation CRL ran earlier this year that are detailed in the application.
The CBA said the proposals meant that “those with far less training will find themselves thrown into our specialist, fast-moving criminal courts”.
The proposals would “undermine the current standards of the criminal advocate but also risk causing further delay in our criminal courts where historic backlogs are being addressed as efficiently and quickly as possible”.
It said the proposals risked introducing “a third and lower tier in criminal advocacy, by admitting individuals whose training and experience falls far beneath that which the criminal Bar (or the solicitor’s profession) provides”.
The CBA added: “It cannot be in the public interest for insufficiently qualified advocates to exercise higher rights. The profession of criminal court advocacy should not be deskilled in the manner proposed.”
The Bar Council said the training required was insufficient, especially when compared to barristers.
It said: “A CILEX practitioner need only complete 36 hours tuition, delivered over six one-day sessions (including one day of home study to complete the law of evidence requirements) plus an additional 12 hours of training over two days to be eligible to apply for higher rights of audience in the criminal and civil courts.
“There is no provision for specific training for practitioners who seek higher rights to appear in family or immigration cases. It is wrongly assumed that these two highly specialist areas of law, with rules, regulations and practice directions of their own, can somehow be subsumed within the training offered in civil law.”
CRL responded by telling the LSB that it was only those who had achieved the status of chartered legal executive litigator or advocate and received rights of audience for their chosen specialism could apply to undertake the proposed higher courts training – this took years of study and practice.
They must also submit a portfolio demonstrating how they have used their advocacy skills, assessed by external assessors, and have been advocates in the lower courts for a minimum of a year.
CRL said the standards for higher court advocates had been “developed by highly qualified, experienced and competent experts” and mapped to Solicitors Regulation Authority standards.
The regulator said it was not awarding rights of audience for immigration, and those seeking them for family cases could apply for higher rights for civil proceedings, in the same way that solicitors did.
CRL said 105 consultation responses were received, mainly from individual chartered legal executives, and were “largely supportive of the proposed changes”, with the exception of a question on whether higher rights should be restricted to CILEX practitioners who held both litigation and advocacy rights.
Almost two-thirds of respondents opposed the restriction and as a result CRL decided that those with either litigation or advocacy rights should be able to apply.