Advocacy Standards in the Youth Court

According to the Legal Services Board (LSB), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has met the standard set for improving the quality of advocacy. The same cannot be said however for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and CILEx Regulation.

The LSB has reported that the BSB had done sufficient to address the “advocacy quality risks”. However, until such time as the SRA has developed a new approach in terms of ensuring continuing competence of solicitor advocates, the LSB could not consider that solicitors were effectively monitored to ensure that advocacy standards were met. These outcomes follow the demise of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) at the end of 2017.

The BSB has apparently provided the LSB with information on its work to identify and respond to advocacy quality risks including a focus on reported variable standards of advocacy in the youth courts. Barristers are now required to comply with the Youth Proceedings Competences which are a bolt on to the Professional Statement.

The SRA has now launched a consultation on ‘Assuring Advocacy Standards’ and among the proposals is one to require solicitors practising in the youth court to have the criminal Higher Rights Advocacy (HRA) qualification where they are acting as an advocate in any case which would go to the Crown Court if it involved an adult. The consultation closes on 13 November 2019.

The Youth Justice Legal Centre has commented:

“While the standards of advocacy in the youth court should be an area for concern, one has to question whether the HRA qualification is the solution. Lawyers with no interest, training or expertise in youth justice shouldn’t represent children, however, the proposed change goes no way to addressing this.”

The ICCA supports the continual improvement of advocacy standards for those prosecuting and defending cases in the youth courts and, equally, for cases involving children and young people in the Crown Court. We would urge those who undertake this specialist work to make use of the ICCA Youth Justice Advocacy guides and to keep abreast of developments in law and practice.

One of the ICCA’s major projects for the coming months is to create a national youth justice advocacy course which will build on the work we have already done and enable youth justice practitioners to improve further their knowledge and skills in this area.