Advocacy standards have slipped but independent barristers are better than solicitor advocates and in-house counsel, judges told legal regulators.

Published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Judicial Perceptions Report was produced by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research of Birkbeck, University of London and involved in-depth interviews with 50 High Court and Circuit judges.

Most thought advocacy was ‘generally competent’, but a large proportion felt standards were poorer than when they had practised.

Some said the quality differed depending on the seriousness of the case and advocate’s professional background, with solicitor-advocates and in-house barristers less well reviewed than independent barristers.

The most common concern was that advocates took on cases beyond their level of experience, particularly where solicitors’ firms, for financial reasons, kept cases in house rather than instruct appropriately experienced independent counsel.

More than half felt declining pay and associated low morale negatively affected quality, partly because some of the most able advocates left criminal practice for more lucrative civil work.

BSB Director General,Vanessa Davies accepted there was some ‘poor performance’, but highlighted the finding that financial pressures threaten quality. She said the BSB was determined to ensure standards of advocacy are maintained and improved.