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The junior criminal Bar has been feeling the pinch. The cause is the combined effect of the introduction of standard fees and the expanding network of solicitor advocates practising in magistrates courts, who continue to take up the extended rights of audience in order to practise in the Crown Courts.
What is the effect of this for the legally aided defendant?
Undoubtedly most solicitors prefer to use the solicitor advocate for magistrates court work. There is no brief to give to counsel, simply pass on the file.
In addition, a solicitor advocate may prove to be more experienced than junior counsel, who could turn out to be a pupil on their first outing. In those circumstances, the client may get a better service.
The junior barrister practising in the magistrates courts faces lean times both in the paucity of experience they will gain and the remuneration received.
Some parity with solicitor advocates has been achieved by the change allowing counsel to claim for their travel and waiting time. There have been numerous instances of barristers being sent to work for pitiful fees or nothing at all.
The situation in the Crown Court is somewhat different. The barrister who appears there is likely, at present, to have greater experience in the art of Crown Court advocacy.
With the partial abrogation of the right to silence most defendants will give evidence at their own trial.
This, coupled with the recent statutory direction to the courts to give minimum credit for guilty pleas entered on trial day thus reducing the incentive upon the defendant to admit their guilt albeit at a late stage, will inevitably mean that trials will be longer and more numerous. As a result there will be an increased workload for the criminal Bar.
Is this the quid pro quo? And at what cost to defendants' rights?
Victoria Teggin is a barrister practising at Mitre House Chambers.