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Crown Courts

Volume 502: debated on Monday 14 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what recent assessment he has made of the level of competition for contracts for the provision of advocacy services in the Crown Court Criminal Defence Service; (306377)

(2) what his policy is on the provision of criminal litigation support and advocacy services in respect of a case in the Crown Court by the same firm of solicitors; and what value for money assessment has been made of that practice;

(3) if he will make an assessment of the potential effects on standards of representation in the Crown Court provided by the Criminal Defence Service of the appointment by the solicitors' firms providing criminal litigation support of advocates from those firms;

(4) if he will make an assessment of the potential effects on standards of advice given to a client of the Criminal Defence Service of the appointment to the client’s case of a solicitor and an advocate from the same firm, with particular reference to (a) advice on the right to silence during an investigation and (b) the avoidance of adverse references at trial.

With the exception of some advocates on very high cost (crime) cases, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) does not directly contract with advocates for the provision of advocacy services in the Crown court. The LSC is currently consulting on changes to the way that it procures advocacy services for high cost criminal cases. Currently there are sufficient advocates of appropriate quality to meet the needs of the Criminal Defence Service.

Solicitor advocates must pass through an appropriate accreditation scheme before they are able to appear in the Crown court. The aim of this is to ensure that they achieve an equivalent level of skills to barristers. It is also the case that solicitor advocates and barristers—whether employed or self-employed—are under a professional obligation only to take on cases for which they are suitably experienced and qualified.

In commissioning defence and other services, the LSC needs to be able to rely on suitable standards and accreditation to provide assurance as to the quality and value for money of the services it is buying. MOJ and the LSC have spent three years working with the professional bodies, the senior judiciary and the Crown Prosecution Service to develop a quality assurance scheme for all advocates as recognition of the significant change in those now permitted to partake in advocacy. In the longer term, the Quality Assurance of Advocates scheme (QAA) which is currently being developed may become a contractual requirement for all advocates wishing to undertake publicly funded advocacy.

Advocates, whether solicitor advocates or barristers, are not involved in advising clients during investigations prior to charge. If a litigator advises his client to remain silent during interview, then that is a matter of professional judgment at that time with no bearing on any decision to instruct an in-house advocate or independent counsel if the client is subsequently charged.