Third of Criminal Advocates Fail to Represent Their Clients Effectively; Cardiff Study Finds Representatives Are Poor at Cross-Examination
Byline: Sarah Miloudi
MORE than a third of criminal advocates are unable to effectively represent their clients in court, it is claimed today.
Barristers and solicitors are each covered by a single monitoring body, but there is no such organisation in place for criminal advocates.
This has led to concerns from some legal academics that this could diminish public confidence in the state-funded advocates.
The country's first verifiable study into the quality of criminal advocates - conducted in the Welsh capital - has now found that more than a third of the legal representatives involved were unable to cross examine witnesses to an acceptable standard.
Cardiff University researchers looked at the key skills of around 100 CPS advocates and defence barristers who work in the country's magistrates' and crown courts.
Law Professor Richard Moorhead said that although the vast majority operated well or to an exceptional standard, a significant number had under-performed when they put forward a client's case in the courtroom.
Former lawyer Prof Moorhead said: "There have been concerns about criminal advocates expressed anecdotally by judges for some time, and by advocates.
"In our research quality issues were linked to a basic lack of clear thinking and strategy in the way they approached cross-examination of witnesses, simply not doing a good job of getting their client's case across in cross-examination. Some volunteers were quite experienced, so it's not as if they were junior and lacked experience as a result.
"We would not have failed any volunteer if we only had a very minor concern about their quality."
Prof Moorhead and a team of analysts took a year to devise and implement a unique test that assessed criminal advocates' performance in eight areas. They examined 101 advocates, who are often funded by Legal Aid, and measured their performance in terms of the severity of the offence and type of court where they most commonly operate.
The crimes ranged from minor sexual offences and theft - alleged acts typically heard in front of magistrates - through to the most vicious incidents of violence like manslaughter, murder and rape, which are dealt with in crown courts in England and Wales.
Prof Moorhead said the skills needed to cross-examine had been deemed most important by the assessors. …