Advocating the status quo

Mark Humphries believes solicitors are disadvantaged by the current requirements for advocacy training imposed by the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee (The Lawyer, 8 October).

There are two short answers to the points he makes. First, anyone wishing to specialise in advocacy should become a barrister. The second is that in the training requirements he is not comparing like with like.

From the moment a student enters the Bar Vocational Course he is training to be a barrister, that is somebody who wishes to specialise in advocacy as opposed to the broader generalist training required of the solicitor. The Bar Vocational Course is very substantially skills-based, and is specifically designed to prepare a student for advocacy and pupillage.

The success of this is borne out by the study by Shapland and Soresby Starting Practice: work and training at the bar (May 1994), which said inter alia: "The criterion for the course is that it should train barristers to be competent practitioners in pupillage and in the first few years of practice," and went on to say: "This degree of 'fit' between the course and students' later needs and practices is remarkable".

This being the case, it is sensible that there is a specialist fast track for those whose training concentrates of that specific area of skill. For solicitor advocates to complain that they are being discriminated against misunderstands the nature of the training required of barristers. To suggest that it should be made easier for solicitor advocates ignores the question of standards that are fundamental.

Furthermore, the solicitor advocate who complains that the barrister on completion of his first six months pupillage gains unlimited rights ignores two important controls.

The first is the role of the pupil master in chambers, and the second the role of the instructing solicitor. The barrister is dependent on the work of the instructing solicitor and no sensible or prudent solicitor is going to instruct a young barrister to appear immediately in the highest court in the most serious type of case.

It is only by acquiring the necessary experience through the lower courts – a factor reflected in the Bar Council's concern to ensure that there is adequate work in both the Magistrates and County Court for young barristers – that the barrister is likely to aspire to the heavier type of case if his/her reputation merits it.

Mark Humphries' proposal to make higher court rights of audience for solicitors easier to obtain would lower standards and undermine "the proper and efficient administration of justice" – part of the statutory objective and general principle of the Court and Legal Services Act 1990 to which he does not refer.

Niall Morison

Chief executive, The General Council of the Bar