Criminal solicitors have hit back at the bar over a new campaign aimed at curtailing the competitive advantages which solicitor-advocates allegedly enjoy over barristers.

The new president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association last night accused criminal bar leader Tony Cross of taking 'cheap shots' at solicitor-advocates in a bid to boost work for barristers in the Crown court. Cross, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, told Saturday's Bar Conference that the CBA was preparing to launch a campaign to persuade regulators to 'level the playing field' between advocates.

In his inaugural speech as president of the association, Jon Black of BSB law told solicitors and judges: 'There needs to be an understanding that we (solicitors) are not appearing in the Crown court for the sake of cutting out the bar. But because we need to, we want to and we are capable of doing so. We shan't pander to elitist notions that we are not able to bat for the First 11, or …that we must certify that clients have been notified that they could use a "real barrister" instead of the "imposters" that call themselves solicitor-advocates.'

He added: 'Let's avoid cheap shots aimed at solicitor-advocates when the reality facing access to justice lies elsewhere.'

Updating CBA members yesterday, Cross said: 'We fear that some advocates are doing work beyond their competence. "Straw juniors", referral fees and fee sharing are all practices which are denying the client the best-quality representation, for no other reason than economic necessity.'

He added: 'Referral fees have been outlawed in some civil cases. There is no good reason why it should not be unlawful in crime. Similarly, fee-sharing is abhorrent and should be outlawed. It is time for the regulators to deal with these pressing issues.'

Cross said CBA representatives will tour circuits and chambers to gather evidence of the 'injustices' barristers face. He also hopes to begin a dialogue on a 'joint approach' to the issues with the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association.

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