Advocacy is the means by which a barrister puts his or her client’s case to the court. It may be written or oral. Advocacy is a specialist skill, the quality and excellence of which distinguishes the Bar from other providers of legal services. It is in the interests of the public, the court and the profession that barristers present their cases to the highest possible standards.
Oral advocacy is primarily a performance skill. It requires the advocate to address the court persuasively and concisely, presenting a case in a manner which is clear, well organised and efficient.
Key advocacy skills include case analysis, the correct use of skeleton arguments, oral submissions, examination-in-chief and cross-examination, pleas in mitigation and legal submissions.
The Professional Statement for Barristers describes the knowledge, skills and attributes that all barristers will have on ‘day one’ of practice. For aspiring barristers, it allows them to understand the knowledge, skills and attributes which must be developed in order for them to finally qualify as a barrister. For practising barristers, it describes the essential knowledge, skills and attributes that they should expect of themselves and their peers.
The Professional Statement at 1.15 provides that a competent barrister will have persuasive oral advocacy skills:
They will be able to communicate their client’s case effectively. They will be able to deliver coherent, well-structured and concise submissions and cite legal authorities and materials appropriately. They will be able to engage appropriately with and maintain an awareness of others in any forum where they represent clients.
When delivering submissions and questioning witnesses, they will be able to communicate audibly, using both pace and language that are appropriate to the tribunal. They will be able to handle witnesses in accordance with the rules of the court. They will ask questions which assist the court, focus on the real issues in the case and avoid the irrelevant. They will listen to the answers and demonstrate appropriate conduct towards the witness.
As can be seen from 1.15(i), a competent barrister must recognise the role of different types of witness and use appropriate questioning techniques for witness handling, having particular regard to vulnerable witnesses. The ICCA Advocacy & the Vulnerable course has been specifically designed to ensure that advocates understand the key principles behind the approach to, and questioning of, vulnerable people in the justice system.