The report, Criminal Justice, Advocacy and the Bar, was the work of the Bar Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Group led by former Senior Circuit Judge His Honour Geoffrey Rivlin QC.
Its 65 recommendations cover charging and the pre-trial process, better case management, limiting rights of audience and restructuring the training given to aspiring barristers.
Legal executives, it said, should not have rights of audience in the Crown court. If they retain their current limited rights, clients should be advised of their right to use a solicitor or barrister and notified of the different qualifications.
Where in-house advocates are instructed, the report stated that solicitors should be required to advise clients in writing of the reasons for doing so and to inform them of their right to instruct advocates independent of their firm.
It suggested there should be no category of “plea only” advocates, whether solicitors or barristers, fearing it is a move towards “dumbing down” within the profession.
In addition, all those practising as advocates should complete training and apprenticeship to the equivalent standard of the Bar.
Mindful of the plight of those seeking to enter the profession and the need to secure the future of the junior Bar, the report branded the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) “expensive” and “not highly regarded”.
It expressed concern that commercial providers, which charge up to £17,980 for the course, “are using the system to make money from people with no real prospect of pupillage”.
Around 1,800 students undertake the BPTC each year chasing approximately 400 pupillages.
The report recommended raising the standard of entry and replacing the “not fit for purpose” BCAT with a new admission test. It called for greater transparency to give students a better understanding of their chances of success, suggesting that providers publish pupillage statistics and their own selection criteria.
Echoing recommendations in Sir Brian Leveson’s Review of Efficiencies in Criminal Proceedings, the report called for better charging decisions, case ownership, investment in digital working, changes to case allocation and listing, and the abolition of the warned list.
On trial management it proposed greater use of pre-recorded evidence, shorter prosecution opening speeches and the introduction of a defence opening speech.
In conclusion, it said: “As to the future of the Bar, no one can pretend that there is some magic formula to hand; but we believe there is a very powerful case for a strong independent criminal Bar.”
Meanwhile, a report from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that advocacy standards within the organisation had taken a “backwards step” over the past three years.
Sir Michael Fuller’s report found that CPS barristers lacked “presence, self-confidence and flair” in Crown court trials and were in danger of “losing” the jury because of the way they presented cases.
Though good news for the independent Bar, the report warned that the CPS’s high use of outside counsel posed a “real threat to in-house prosecutors’ courtroom skills”.
The CPS, which has undergone 25% budget cuts, strongly disputed the criticism and argued that conviction rates had been maintained.