The Legal Services Policy Institute at The College of Law has warned the Solicitors Regulation Authority that their proposals for voluntary accreditation for solicitor higher court advocates would not be in the public interest as they could lead to incompetent solicitors appearing in those courts.
The Institute calls for mandatory assessment and compulsory accreditation of new solicitor advocates because “there is a clear case in the public interest and in the interest of clients that those who claim competence in higher courts advocacy should be certified in advance as having demonstrated the appropriate knowledge and skills. This would minimise the risk to an unsuspecting client and promote the effective and efficient administration of justice.”
The proposed SRA scheme envisages voluntary rather than compulsory accreditation, self-audited compliance with the Code of Conduct and proposed competence standards, and after- the-event professional discipline or accountability.
Professor Stephen Mayson, Director of the Institute, which was set up by the College in 2006 to oversee legal policy formulation and planning, argues that the SRA’s proposals will not ensure high standards of advocacy and will put solicitors at a very clear competitive disadvantage to barristers appearing in the higher courts. “On this basis, a more appropriate response might be that the SRA should adopt the Bar’s Code of Conduct, or that the SRA and Bar Standards Board should jointly promulgate a new code of conduct and standards for higher court’s advocacy.”
The Institute’s response to the SRA’s consultation paper also says that the proposed regulatory approach would encourage other organisations to impose before-the-event safeguards or risk-avoidance measures. The Legal Services Commission or other large providers of legal work might impose their own requirements for approved certification of solicitor advocates. Professional indemnity insurers might also require similar certification or increased premiums for firms engaging in higher courts advocacy.
It argues that the proposed voluntary accreditation scheme would be considerably more onerous than the present compulsory process and would put off some would-be advocates and lead to some current higher courts solicitors withdrawing rather than submit to accreditation.
It concludes: “Taken in the round, the SRA proposals seem to us to leave too much to market forces and client choice, in relation to services where the risk of incompetence or poor service is not adequately addressed after the event by sanctions on the practitioner or compensation for an aggrieved client.”