Solicitors are rubbish at the ‘art’ of Crown Court advocacy, says top Tory QC

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By Jonathan Ames on

Silk who defended the Krays also aggrieved by modern law firm tendency to “tie papers with rubber bands instead of tape”


Crown Court criminal advocacy standards are tumbling, and it’s all the fault of solicitor-advocates, claims a Conservative Party bar grandee this week.

Sir Ivan Lawrence QC — renowned for defending the Kray brothers before becoming the MP for Burton — fired a broadside that highlights the delicacy of relations between the two sides of the profession as they fight the government’s legal aid cuts through strike action.

Lawrence (pictured below) — who spent 23 years in parliament and is still, at the age of 78, practising at the criminal bar — spoke out in the House of Commons against elements of the Courts and Legal Services Åct as it went through enactment a quarter of a century ago.


And the intervening years have not dulled his opposition to the role of solicitor-advocates.

“We are trained advocates, whereas solicitors have to combine it with other things,” Lawrence told a new blog called Legalhackette’s brief launched by non-practising barrister and leading legal affairs journalist Catherine Baksi.

“Advocacy is putting your best points forward persuasively in the shortest available time,” continued Lawrence, who remains in chambers at 5 Pump Court in the Temple. “It’s an art that has to be learned and practised. Solicitors can’t do it if they are doing other things.”

Lawrence was also damning of the modern criminal law firm practices.

They pile it up and do not do a proper job,” he told Legalhackette’s brief. “They tie papers with rubber bands instead of tape — always an indication of slackness — briefs are not prepared, proofs are not taken and the work that solicitors used to do in advance is being left to the advocate to do in conference with the client.

Despite taking pot-shots at the larger branch of the criminal law profession, Lawrence maintained that he is four-square behind barristers taking strike action to support solicitors in their bid to defeat a second tranche of government legal aid cuts.

Nonetheless, the veteran silk is pessimistic about the chances of success. Having warned in the Commons 25 years ago that the creation of high court solicitor-advocates would lead to a fused legal profession, Lawrence now says he is more convinced than ever that such an evolution is the aim of ministers and their mandarins.

The [publicly-funded criminal] bar’s fees are set by civil servants who have an agenda,” he relayed to Baksi. “Fusion of the solicitors and barristers professions.

As harsh as Lawrence’s assessment is of the solicitor-advocates, his comments are in line with elements of official Bar Council thinking on the issue.

At the beginning of April, the council’s criminal justice reform group, chaired by the former circuit judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC, launched a blistering attack on solicitors in the Crown Court, accusing them of “dumbing down” advocacy standards at that level.