‘I’m used to giving my voice for others, not advocating on behalf of myself.’

Those words are said in frustrated angst by criminal barristers across the country every September when the CPS Advocate Panels application window opens up. You are not alone when you sit at your desk forlornly trying to express how wonderful you are; it is a shared experience. While filling in a competency-based form is never likely to be a pain-free experience, there are ways to make it easier. Read on!

Know the rules

As with writing a five-line limerick with the correct rhythm, so with filling in the CPS online form – you need to know and, crucially, follow the rules. The assessors are looking for you to have ticked certain boxes, as set out in the relevant selection criteria. They will read a lot of forms. Applications are anonymous so they will know nothing about you except what you put on the form.

The assessors have a marking scheme. They will rank all your competencies between 1 (no positive evidence) and 7 (evidence provided wholly exceeded expectations). For two of the competencies – advocacy and advisory – there is a minimum score of 4 (adequate positive evidence of the competency). Concentrate on these two. If you don’t get the minimum score, even if you hit the overall mark, you won’t be upgraded.

TIP 1: In the year or so before you are planning to apply or upgrade, go to www.cps.gov.uk/advocate-panels and read the rules for the level for which you are going to apply. Remember you are not in a battle against others; you are only fighting your ability to give ‘positive evidence’ for each competency. There is no quota for joining the General List. Look at the CPS Briefing Principles and the Diversity and Inclusion Statement for the Bar so you understand the CPS ethos.

Prepare for success

You need to get the work that is going to help you demonstrate the competencies of the level being applied for. Speak to your clerks about putting you forward for cases which will allow you to demonstrate that you can prosecute at a higher level, and plug any obvious gaps.

TIP 2: Talk to your clerks and be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Remember you need to submit a skeleton argument or an advice as part of your form. A defence example is permissible. As part of your ‘thinking ahead’ consider, for instance, doing a written advice rather than simply speaking to the CPS lawyer.

TIP 3: Keep a record of your cases. Try to keep a short note of when you did something really well or when a judge or CPS lawyer complimented you. Have a spreadsheet with the competencies set out and make a note under each heading. Any case can satisfy the competencies, regardless of the charge.

If you set yourself the task of filling in the form the evening before the deadline, from a standing start, you will hate the whole process. It’s worth starting at least two weeks before the deadline. With the new online process, you can start drafting at any time, from registration. If you need referees, make sure you ask them well in advance.

TIP 4: Don’t leave filling in the form to the last minute!

Filling in the form

The preparation you have already done will pay dividends. All you have to do now is print off the competencies so you have them to hand and start filling in the online form.

This is where most barristers fall down. The difficulty is turning a long-winded story about the case into a honed example where the focus is on what you did. The facts of the case are, in large part, irrelevant. The assessors need to know what you needed to achieve and how you achieved it; how you used your skills to keep the case on track.

TIP 5: Remove every ‘I am’ from your form and replace with ‘I did’. Follow the STAR method: 10% on explaining the facts; 10% on your objective; 50% on your action; 30% on the result. Use the exact words from the competency – it will guide the assessor to tick their box. Watch the CPS video on this.

What if you don’t have an example?

For some, the hardest one to tick is the PII (public interest immunity) box. PII is rare. Don’t panic. If you don’t have a specific example you can say, for example, ‘While I have never dealt with a full application, I had to think about it in x case and so I looked at the CPS website/read Archbold to ensure I knew the procedure.’

TIP 6: You will have always thought about, researched or been on a course about something, even if you haven’t put it into practice. Using that as an example is fine.

Turning ‘what I generally do’ into ‘positive evidence’

You would be right to think that having a strong knowledge of law and practice is ‘just’ your job. But you would be wrong to think that such everyday cases can’t be used to provide ‘positive evidence’. Think about a specific case – for example, a sex case where you had a s 28 hearing; a committal for sentence requiring a sentencing note on the minimum term on a knife crime.

TIP 7: Remember to demonstrate what to you is your everyday job. ‘For x case I had to read y area of law and I provided a note to the judge/set it out in an advice for the CPS.’

Some ‘do nots’

Don’t put in any sensitive case information that can be linked to a specific case or individual. Better to use initials or give no name at all. Redact your written example as well. If sensitive identifying details are given, you will score 0 in that competency.

Don’t go over the word count or make silly spelling mistakes.

TIP 8: Persuade a suitable colleague with experience of CPS grading to read your application. A second opinion/set of proof-reading eyes is invaluable.


If you have followed our top tips, you should get the grading you deserve. If, however, you are unsuccessful, the CPS gives you the opportunity to appeal against its decision. It will inform you which competency you failed on, allowing you the opportunity to make further representations. 

The authors would like to thank Rose Farmer and Michael Hoare of the CPS for their invaluable input.