Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Poor Advocates

Advocacy is one part of the job of being a criminal solicitor. I have worked with people in the past who shy away from representing Clients in Court, as they prefer to work in the office or at the Police Station. I have never understood why a litigator would not enjoy standing up in Court and making their points to the tribunal. I personally think that advocacy is the best part of my job.

Yesterday I sat wearily in Court waiting for one of my cases to be called on. When you are waiting for cases to be called on in Court you can pass the time by doing a number of things. You can sit and chat about local issues with other professionals. You can try to get work done on other files. You can go and find refreshments and have a cup of tea. There are endless possibilities that you can involve yourself in to fill the time until your case is called on. I prefer to sit and watch what is going on in Court. Whilst watching the other cases in Court I saw a young advocate get to her feet, and immediately she started doing things wrong.

An advocate is the voice of the Client, if the advocate is not going to stand up and do a job good the Client might as well do it themself. If an advocate does a poor job then they have done a dis-service to the Client.

The particular advocate that I was watching was quite clearly young, and new to the job. They stood up and started to address the Court with a quiet voice. A quiet voice is never a good thing because you cannot be sure that the tribunal can hear what you are saying, and if they cannot hear you they will not understand what you are saying. The young advocate was asked to speak up within seconds of her addressing the bench.

The advocates Client had pleaded guilty to an offence, and the Prosecutor had given the facts of the case to the Court. When the advocate stood up she said words to the effect of, "I would request that this case be adjourned for the preparation of pre-sentence reports." That phrase was widely used a few years ago in any case where the advocate was of the view that the Client was likely to get either a community penalty or be sent to prison - it would trigger an adjournment because the Probation Service were not geared up for providing Courts with almost immediate reports. With the advent of a government programme called 'Speedy Summary Justice' the Probation Service can usually provide a Court with a pre-sentence report on the same day as it is asked for. The advocate had probably been told by a colleague or her boss just go and ask for an adjournment, it'll be alright.

The advocate was quickly told that her request would be refused by the Bench. She then stood there in silence not knowing what to say next. Thankfully the Court Clerk then suggested the case should be put back for a short period whilst the Probation Service prepared a short pre-sentence report that day.

Fortunately I left Court after my hearing and did not see the advocate on her feet again. She will have learnt a valuable lesson in advocacy by her experience at Court: "Know your tribunal". As an advocate you should never ask the tribunal to do something that you know 100% they will not do. Although the advocate may have been new on her feet her current advocacy skills certainly need a great deal of work.

15 comments:

Western Justice said...

Was the newbee set up to do trial work? Sometimes it seems, prosecutor or defender, some people aren't just cut out for the work.
Western Justice
http://westernjustice.blogspot.com

Bystander said...

I think I know her.

Smartie said...

And some people get thrown into situations they know nothing about - maybe this newbie? At the bar during pupillage (very early days) we regularly got told "papers at court", for a full days trial, and then we'd get there with prosecutors and clerks clicking their fingers expecting you to run with the trial.

Mind you, now in the CPS, papers are at court for at least 3 trials on one day, should one run short, and you're expected to just get on with it!

I agree though, advocacy is tres important in the criminal legal profession, but sometimes a lack of preparation can make you come accross as rubbish...cue CPS.

Sam said...

superb,

a lot of feckless 'observations' from amateurs (except for smartie who makes some reasoned comments). Solicitors, know your place. You are not advocates, despite what fashionable changes make you think you are. Desperate you may be to get your new wigs on but you are best suited to hacking in Magistrates' courts with revolting provincial rules and attitudes. Those that don't want to embrace 'speedy summary justice,' good on them. Frankly, when I had the misery of being in shitsville justices 5 years ago and not paid by the hour like you, solicitor, I did everything I could to give the man the chance to have some time spent on him by the probation service and not be a number in the money saving system that courts are, and solictors are desperate to turn them into. That being at the expense of skill and fairness. I pity this young lawyer, for having to waste her time in these meaningless exercises in front of green grocers armed with the blunt instrument of 'common sense.'
Thank the lord though solicitor, for you are there to dredge up from your limitless well of experience, your large pails of wisdom on 'advocacy.' Im sure you will be lead in a murder soon, and should be doling out similar comments of forensic ability on others that have the misfortune to share a court with you.

Anonymous said...

I am staggered by your attitude I am a solicitor advocate and not withstanding that I am a well respected Crown Court advocate. In last twelve months have been led by same silk on a number of murders at their specific request that I should be junior. you seem to have issues you need to deal with.growing up maybe one of them

Anonymous said...

I am quite new to the job and sometimes quite terrible. I'm sure you were too, at one point. This is a hard job, and pupillage leaves you ill prepared for hacking it in the mags. Cut her some slack!

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