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Solicitors Regulation Authority consults on overhaul of Higher Rights of Audience scheme

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has proposed the introduction of revised standards for the Higher Rights of Audience qualification.

In a consultation it has also proposed the creation of a single, centralised Higher Rights of Audience assessment, and the development of more online resources to help solicitors maintain and develop their advocacy skills.

There will also be changes to qualifying requirements for undertaking advocacy in more serious youth court cases. Under the SRA’s proposals, in future only solicitors with the Higher Rights of Audience qualification would be able to undertake advocacy in more serious cases being conducted in the youth courts.

The watchdog said that the proposals had been designed to make sure that high standards of advocacy were provided by solicitors.

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The SRA said reports such as the Ministry of Justice’s Jeffrey Review and its own judicial perceptions research had suggested judges have concerns about the competence of some of the solicitor advocates appearing before them.

“There is, however, no definitive evidence on this,” it said.

The SRA received 89 complaints from the judiciary about poor advocacy between January 2015 and February 2018.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive said: "Nowhere is it more important that a client can rely upon their solicitor to provide a good service than when in court, where a person’s freedom or livelihood can be at stake.

"While the majority of solicitors do a good job, we do hear comments that this is not always the case. We are keen to hear from as many people as possible about our proposals to make sure that the advocacy done by solicitors meets our high standards."

In total 6,764 solicitors across England and Wales hold the Higher Rights of Audience qualification. An SRA survey found that nearly a quarter of those polled had never undertaken advocacy in a higher court.

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