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SRA asks: Are solicitors to blame for declining criminal advocacy standards?

SRA reception [1]

SRA: investigating whether solicitors working “beyond competence”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to research this year whether standards of criminal advocacy are declining and whether solicitors are to blame.

As part of the research, the SRA said it would ask judges whether solicitor and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) advocates were “working beyond their level of competence”.

In a paper outlining its research programme for 2016, the SRA said it would also ask judges whether law firms were “retaining work in-house that is beyond their competence”.

The regulator said that, as well as judges, the study would examine the views of practitioners and clients of legal services, and cover issues such as factors influencing choice of advocate and “behaviours related to the ban on referral fees”. A report is due to be completed by the spring.

In a separate research project for this year, the SRA said it would “identify areas of the legal market with an increased likelihood of consumer vulnerability”, with the focus on access, quality and cost.

“We will select areas of law (e.g. family, mental health) where vulnerability, caused by limited access to justice, lack of choice or provision, is more likely.”

The SRA said it was yet to decide which areas of law to focus on, and the report would be delivered by the autumn. In a further project for 2016, which is already in progress, the SRA is researching the competence of personal injury lawyers [2].

In a separate development, the SRA announced last month that its new model for consumer credit regulation had passed its “final hurdle”, with approval from the Legal Services Board.

The regulator said the new approach should mean that the majority of firms would not have to be regulated by both the Financial Conduct Authority and the SRA. Law firms were reminded that they needed to decide whether to apply for dual regulation before the changes are implemented on 1 April 2016.

Elsewhere in the world of regulation, Naomi Ellenbogen QC has been appointed vice-chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

Ms Ellenbogen is currently joint head of Littleton Chambers, specialising in employment, commercial and professional negligence law.

She takes over from Patricia Robertson QC, who stood down from her role at the BSB at the end of last year. Ms Ellenbogen has served as barrister vice-chair of the regulator’s professional conduct committee since 2011.

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has announced that law degrees no longer have to have been completed within the last seven years to qualify for exemptions against CILEx qualifications, following approval from the LSB.

Law graduates can apply for exemption from the CILEx Level 3 Diploma in Law and Practice and the law units of the CILEx Level 6 diploma, allowing them to move straight to the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma.

Finally, a new lay member has been appointed to the Queen’s Counsel selection panel. Wanda Goldwag is currently a Civil Service Commissioner and is a former chief executive of Air Miles.