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Solicitors as advocates

Briefs

Cite as: September 2014 88 (09) LIJ, p.14

A Supreme Court judge has predicted that legal aid cuts and caps on new entrants joining the Bar will increasingly lead to solicitors replacing barristers as advocates in the higher criminal courts.

Justice Terry Forrest told the LIV’s criminal law conference that in the future it is likely criminal law firms will provide complete legal teams to clients, including advocates, and that the Bar may shrink proportionally. It is impossible to predict how deep legal aid cuts will bite, Justice Forrest said, but they would have an impact on the economic base of many criminal law firms.

“There is, I think, a prospect that it may become economically unfeasible for criminal solicitors to survive without taking on the advocate’s role as well,” Justice Forrest said.

“There will still be a legal team but it may come from within the solicitor’s office.

“I think that would be a great pity. I have an emotional attachment to the Bar. It was very good to me. And I think there is much to be said for an independent body of advocates.”

Justice Forrest was critical of the Bar entrance exam which he said had become an artificial barrier to potentially exceptional advocates going to the Bar.

“There are at any given time only about 40 places made available in the readers’ course,” he said. “Some of the really great advocates of the past would simply not have gone to the Bar had they been required to sit this exam.

“The best exam in my view, the only real test of whether a barrister is a good one or not, is 10 years of practice.”

The judge told delegates his views on the future of the Bar and the rise of the solicitor advocate were not the views of the court and were not shared by some fellow judges. He also stressed the importance of instructing solicitors, a view he had expressed in a judgment where he stayed the 2013 trial of an accused who was denied funding for a solicitor in a complex murder case.

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