SENIOR QC Michael Sherrard is leading a major initiative aimed at improving the advocacy skills of young barristers.
Standards have fallen so low that, according to Sherrard: "Sometimes they don't even know how to address a magistrate."
Sherrard, of 2 Crown Office Row, has formed Middle Temple Advocacy (MTA) which will bring leading lights from Bar and judiciary alike to take lectures and workshops on advocacy. The first three-week course is planned for January.
According to Sherrard, a recent weekend session went "very well indeed".
MTA is a substitute for a Bar-wide institute for advocacy training, which lacks sufficient support.
Sherrard is insistent, and says: "The young Bar is under a lot of pressure. There will be shrinkage and only the well-polished will survive. More solicitors will come on to the scene as advocates." He admits the pressure was not the same when he started in 1949, and says clients in those days ran a risk of poor-representation at the hands of untrained young barristers.
"I was on my feet in court representing a man on a serious charge the day after I was called to the Bar," he says.
"Advocacy doesn't just happen by osmosis. The basic skills have to be taught – how to do a plea in mitigation, a bail application, how to avoid over-cross-examination," he adds.
"What we need is consistency. A consistent, high level of competence."
An "institute" for advocacy is unlikely to be established as two of the four Inns – Lincoln's and Inner Temple – are against the idea, saying it would be too expensive and too bureaucratic.