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Thursday, 16 July 2009

CPS gets its first advocacy report-card

The United Kingdom has a fairly complex criminal justice system, with many agencies and review agencies.

I don't really know enough about the system to say if it's a good or a bad thing, but there's no doubt there's a lot of activity, and there have been a lot of major changes over the last decade. It makes for interesting comparative research, if nothing else.

For example, the various police services are supervised or subject to policy guidance by:
Her Majesty's Court Services receive administrative input and suggestions (but no interference in their judicial functions) from:
And the newly formed Attorney-General's Office supervises the Crown Prosecuting Service, also supervised by Her Majesty's Crown Prosecuting Service Inspectorate!

This last body, the HMCPSI, today released its report and audit into prosecution advocacy standards and case presentation:

Though the executive summary is available, if you have the time I think the full report is worthwhile reading.

Good advocacy is frequently defined ostensively. ("I know it when I see it, but I can't tell you what it would be.")

The HMCPSI review team of 19 members — made up of judges, retired judges, barristers and solicitors (including CPS advocates) — reviewed and scored 376 advocacy assessments in the Crown Court, Magistrates' Court and youth court, including 113 trials. Anyone involved in moot courts or advocacy training, or even providing critical and detailed advice or guidance to another advocate, will immediately appreciate what a huge task that is.

About 33% of advocates were lacklustre or worse; 67% were fully-competent or better. I reckon the report can be paraphrased as "Pretty good; can do better".

The real value in the report, in my opinion, is the detail of what good and poor advocates did that demonstrated they were good or bad; things to be improved; and things that helped good advocates perform well.

Unsurprisingly, adequate time for thorough preparation featured, as did quality of instructions, provision of relevant practitioner texts; good quality training, teaching and guidance; and systems to match complexity of cases with competence and experience of advocates, and to monitor and record their work.

In that sense, there's nothing new or earth-shattering in this report, but it's good to see detailed information to support our own anecdotal experience.

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