Bar Wars

Wearing a dead hedgehog on your head does not increase your IQ; but, if you read its latest submissions on the quality assurance scheme for advocates (QASA), it seems that the Bar Council must beg to differ. Whilst anything that reduces meaningless regulation gets my vote and so I wish them good luck in any judicial review, it is sad to see solicitor-bashing by those who should know better - if only because we pay them. Wait till "one case, one fee?, guys...

Amongst the usual genuflection to Silks and a pompous paean to their own excellence, the submission contains some quality rubbish. Read it and groan. Like both my readers, I have good friends and respected colleagues at the Bar; but this turf war by the Council does my companions a disservice. Para 41 pouts that plea-only advocates (referred to contemptuously as a "species of advocate?) cannot be competent to advise at all because they don?t do trials.

How can it be an essential qualification for one job to say that you are really good at another?

When I call a plumber to fix a leak, I need her to arrive with a pipe wrench, not an engineering degree. Solicitors have advised on plea and evidence for centuries. Nothing?s changed, except that the Bar Council is worried about loss of earnings.

Quality? Some designated case workers are better lawyers than the barrister agents that they are obliged to instruct. On those occasions when I enjoy the guilty pleasure of shooting ducks in a barrel, the deceased opponent tends not to be a DCW and generally comes from the Bar, not my own profession. There, I feel better now...Thank God for statins.

Another proposal is that only advocates on QASA?s level 2 should conduct those youth court cases where the charges would be "indictable only? in a case where the defendant was an adult. Solicitors have acted in these cases for decades without troubling the Administrative Court. Call me dumb, but where is the evidential nightmare in a "What have you got for me?? knifepoint robbery with the customary defence of "I was on the other side of the road?? (?yawns). Or an oaf groping a classmate in the playground? (?more yawns).

How is it that, as a mere solicitor, I have conducted hundreds of these cases without a negligence suit? Oh, I remember: I have Higher Rights - and, of course, that makes all the difference.

The difficulty and complexity of a case depends, not so much on a label, but on the evidence in the individual case and on the ingenuity of the advocate. When I used to challenge Department of Work and Pensions fraud interviews, I once dragged a one witness trial out so that it lasted two and a half days, with three skeleton arguments and a 50-page bundle of European authorities. Complex? By day two, District Judge Green was sending out for espresso on the hour. Indictable? No.

When Sam Stein QC defended the Council?s arguments at a recent LCCSA forum, he was unfortunately unable to stay to answer questions. So we couldn?t barrack him. Pity. I always look forward to hearing level 4 advocacy.

- Bruce Reid

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