The Solicitors Regulation Authority has dropped ‘damaging’ plans to introduce a higher rights qualification requirement for youth court solicitors. However, solicitors could be punished if the regulator discovers they have not kept on top of their learning and development.
After consulting on measures to assure advocacy standards last year, the SRA today confirmed that youth court solicitors will not be required to pass a higher court advocacy qualification where they are acting as advocates in a case which would go to the Crown court if brought against an adult.
A final consultation response document published today states that a ‘significant majority’ disagreed with the proposal on the grounds that it could ‘damage the quality and supply of youth court solicitors’.
Respondents said experienced and competent youth court solicitors would be restricted from practising in serious cases and could be replaced by solicitors with a higher rights qualification who were inexperienced in youth court work. The change would financially affect small firms employing youth court solicitors without higher rights, as they would need to instruct counsel.
However, the regulator says it still expects solicitors to keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date, and will review a sample of training records next summer.
The response document says: ‘We will look at how solicitors are maintaining their competence, how they identify and address their learning and development needs. For example, are they evaluating the communication skills needed to engage effectively with young people? Do they understand the specific legal and sentencing requirements which apply in the youth court? Are they keeping their legal knowledge up to date? This will increase our understanding about the level of risk solicitors pose in this area and enable to better address concerns about standards.
‘If, as a result of our review of training records, we have concerns about whether a particular individual has met their regulatory obligations, we will contact them to seek an explanation as to why and remind them of their regulatory responsibilities. In line with our enforcement strategy, a failure to consider or address training and development needs may be considered as an aggravating factor in determining whether we take regulatory action.’
The SRA decided to review advocacy standards last year after ‘persistent concerns’ were raised about the standard of mostly criminal advocacy. However, its research shows that only 1% of firms, 0.6% of private practice solicitors and 1% of in-house solicitors have reported poor advocacy to the regulator.