The review, which was published on 16 July, was carried out by a team included advocacy trainers, recently retired circuit judges and members of Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) Inspectorate.
Although the report found that differences between self-employed counsel and Crown advocates were “not so striking” as the authors had been led to expect, there was a discrepancy based on the nature of the hearing. In non-contested matters, “a greater majority of Crown advocates were fully competent in comparison to counsel” but counsel, “with an air of authority and in a more positive manner” performed better in trial hearings and across all individual aspects of trial advocacy apart from the closing speech. The quality of cross-examination by in-house advocates was in particular “found wanting” and was noted as needing particular attention for further development.
29 per cent of counsel were rated “very good or above average” compared to 22.5 per cent of Crown advocates, but 25 per cent of each group were deemed “lacklustre”. The idea that competition would lead to higher standards across the board was “not always made out”. It “certainly provided for a higher proportion of very good advocates but does not eliminate weaknesses at the other end of the scale”, and some counsel seemed ill-prepared or even indifferent, the report found. Because of the complexity of factors, the report declined to make an assessment of the CPS strategy’s value for money.