A Question of Standards

The Bar should not fear the development of enforceable standards of advocacy in all areas of practice, writes Nick Green QC

 I have barely got my feet under the Chairman’s desk on the 7th floor of the Bar Council offices on Holborn when it is time to write my second Chairman’s Column.  


 


Compulsory advocacy standards

In late December 2009 the three regulators representing the Bar (the BSB), solicitors (the SRA) and legal executives (ILEX Professional Standards) issued a joint consultation on “Advocacy Standards”. This, on any view, is an important development.
The whole question of advocacy standards has been floating around for some time and the Legal Services Act 2007 has made the ultimate introduction of such standards a near certainty.

For some years the LSC, the dispenser of legal aid funds, has been seeking to introduce advocacy standards. This is understandable since they are amongst the very largest of purchasers of legal services and wished to satisfy themselves that those who received taxpayers’ money were in fact up to scratch. For various reasons these efforts did not bear fruit. Equally the CPS has been working on devising standards for prosecution advocates. In these circumstances, the three regulators have now decided they will simply bite the bullet and get on with the task of developing standards themselves.
 
This is entirely logical since if standards are to be introduced then the professions themselves are best placed to set, monitor and enforce such standards. The greatest chance for the emergence of a workable system will come out of the professions.
The proposal in the consultation paper recognises that currently the most pressing place for standards is in respect of criminal advocates. However, and this is why the paper demands the attention of the entire Bar, it suggests that in the fullness of time the setting of enforceable standards for all advocates in all areas of practice is a possibility. 

The Bar should not fear this development. As the paper recognises the Bar has a very long history of advocacy training and, after all, advocacy is at the heart of the Bar’s work. The Inns of Court also have literally centuries of experience in the training of advocates behind them to assist us in this task.  For the vast majority of the Bar high quality standards should present no threat.

Various justifications are advanced for this proposal: the need to increase the confidence which members of the public repose in advocates; the need to ensure that advocates provide to the judges the assistance that is necessary to enable the administration of justice to run smoothly; and the need to enable regulators to identify those practitioners requiring regulatory action including remedial training.  
The consultation invites responses by 22 March 2010. It raises issues of huge long term importance. It is an easy read and has the virtue of brevity. I urge you to respond to it.


The judiciary in Zimbabwe

On 9 December 2009 I had the great pleasure of introducing former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay of Zimbabwe who delivered the Third International Rule of Law Lecture, in the Inner Temple Hall. The substance of his address was quite extraordinary, and he was listened to with rapt attention. 

He spoke of the fact that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had supplied judges with flat screen televisions, satellite decoders and generators at no charge. He referred to litigation over land rights and the forcible eviction of farmers from their land. He told of senior judges being threatened and forced out of office to be replaced by judges who had been given farms. He quoted from the speech of the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe who made it clear that his government would not allow the “technicalities of the law to fetter its hands”. And he referred to the fact that the government quite openly declared that it would adopt measures which it euphemistically termed “measures which will be extra legal”. 

This distinguished man has all of the bearing of a former Chief Justice. He was quietly spoken and measured in tone and delivery, and for a full hour the judge delivered a dissection of the collapse of the rule of law which was as electrifying as it was depressing. This speech was the culmination of a year in which the then Chairman, Desmond Browne QC, and the Bar Human Rights Committee had undertaken a visit to Zimbabwe to report on the rule of law. The judge’s devastating critique was a testament to just how crucial is the work of the Bar in promoting access to justice internationally and espousing the rule of law.


An untimely death

The entire profession will be very saddened to learn of the death of Sir Ian Brownlie CBE QC, of Blackstone Chambers, in a car crash on 3 January. Sir Ian was called to the Bar in 1958 and was a genuinely monumental figure in public international law and in human rights. His numerous clients included large numbers of States which he advised and appeared for in all of the main international courts. It is almost trite to say that he will be sorely missed but it is undoubtedly true.

Nick Green QC is Bar Chairman

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