Lord Gill, The Lord Justice Clerk, has called for a review of the Solicitor Advocates System.
Solicitor Advocates are solicitors who have undergone additional training and exams to gain audience in higher courts. The system was introduced in 1990 and prior to its introduction the only lawyers who had audience in the higher courts were Advocates.
Lord Gill made his remarks while delivering the courts decision on the appeal of a convicted killer relating to the quality of his defence during his 1998 trial at the High Court sitting in Glasgow.
Lord Gill said that the decision of one of the appellants legal team to be absent one day during the trial to protest over legal aid fees was “a dereliction of his duty”
Lord Gill continued:
“This appeal has highlighted problems of rights of audience that seem not to be unique to this case. I think it would be opportune if there were to be a review of the working of the system overall…I fail to see how any practitioner could be justified in absenting himself from any part of a murder trial except in an emergency.”
The Lord Justice Clerk also added that the appeal highlighted the problem of Solicitor Advocates being able to take instructions from their own firm (as Advocates are all self-employed this is not an issue for them).
The Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Richared Keen QC, commented after the ruling saying:
“I welcome the idea that the problems outlined by the Lord Justice Clerk should be the subject of a review. The particular problem of solicitors not clearly advising clients as to the availability of counsel is a long-standing one and suggestions that they should not have to do so are extremely worrying.”