How wigless advocates cope with the chill factor

Solicitors who have won equality with barristers are still treated with frosty disdain, says Fiona Bowden

Not so long ago Judith Naylor was just a Yorkshire solicitor. Now she is one of 200-odd solicitors in England and Wales to have breached the preserve of barristers and won the right to appear as advocate in the higher courts. The Lord Chancellor is said to be considering allowing solicitors to apply for silk.

Winning the right to equal status is one thing. Achieving it on the ground, however, is quite another. Last month, a circuit judge, David Bentley, replied to a suggestion that he might like to consider appointing a solicitor advocate - namely Ms Naylor - to represent a client, with the words: "I don't think we need to sink that low." He later apologised formally.

Ms Naylor who is chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association stresses that while she has encountered hostility from judges, she has also had strong support. One judge went out of his way to congratulate her on qualifying for higher rights of audience and welcome her aboard.

In any event, she seems undeterred by the insult. She is already planning to act as junior in a forthcoming murder trial and has no qualms that her contribution will carry less weight simply because she is a solicitor.

Solicitor John Mackenzie believes he has faced more serious prejudice from judges. "Being a white, middle-class male, experiencing discrimination is a very unusual and unwelcome sensation for me," he says.

Mackenzie is one of only 65 solicitors qualified to take both criminal and civil cases to the higher courts. But he will not in future be taking advantage of these rights in civil cases. "I don't believe clients using solicitor advocates will get a fair trial and I'm not prepared to prejudice my clients' interests," he says.

Mackenzie was once a great enthusiast for extended rights of audience. A former barrister, he runs advocacy training courses and has written extensively on the subject. But after what he says were particularly bad maulings at the hands of some High Court judges, he is adamant that he will use barristers rather than handle such cases himself in future.

His High Court experience contrasts with his treatment in the Crown Court. "In criminal cases, judges have been very even-handed. They don't distinguish between solicitors or barristers." Mackenzie blames the difference in approach between circuit judges and the senior High Court judiciary on the latter's litism. "High Court judges feel they are guardians of the status quo and of the institutions of the state. Solicitor advocates are seen as upstarts who need to be kept in their place."

Most complaints from solicitor advocates about their treatment are minor: being mistaken for the court usher because they aren't bewigged; or barristers' habit of referring to each other in court as "m'learned friend" and solicitors as "my friend".

Jayne Willetts, a solicitor advocate at Edge and Ellison in Birmingham, says initial concern that she might embarrass everyone by the courtroom equivalent of eating peas off her knife were quickly allayed. "In one case, the barristers didn't seem quite sure how I would behave. Once they realised I wasn't going to dance on the table, they were fine."

Ms Naylor takes an equally pragmatic approach. She dealt with what she calls the "chill factor" from barristers by gently reminding them that, not only was she an advocate, but she was also still an instructing solicitor.

But the question of whether solicitors should wear wigs still causes concern. David Ede, a freelance advocate with Crown Court rights, says it puts solicitors at a disadvantage in front of a jury. "A lot of the performance of advocacy is putting on not just a good verbal show, but also a good appearance. You have to meet the public perception of how a lawyer ought to be." And as every TV-watching defendant or jury member knows, real lawyers wear wigs.

Jo Cooper, another freelance, agrees that the distinction should be ended, but says that while it continues it can sometimes be used to the solicitor's benefit. "The person representing the defence is sitting close to the jury. You are able to address them in quite an intimate setting. There may be advantages in having your argument put in language the jury can understand, by someone who seems more like them."

Most solicitors seem agreed that scrapping wigs for everyone is the only sensible solution. Ms Naylor, in particular, would not relish the prospect of parity being achieved by solicitors having to wear wigs. "I personally think I look very silly in one. It's one of the reasons I didn't go to the Bar in the first place," she says.

Wigs do not seem to be such an issue in civil proceedings. David Mayhew, litigation partner at Clifford Chance, says his bare-headedness hasn't bothered any of his clients. Most are delighted if the firm can handle the advocacy. "Clients get frustrated about briefing a solicitor and then finding they have to do it all again with a barrister," he says.

Mayhew has handled some important cases. He was "parachuted into" a hearing for the Securities and Investment Board when leading counsel pulled out at the last minute. "We were left two weeks before the hearing with the choice of bringing in another counsel, or doing it ourselves." SIB wasn't concerned at the novelty of having a solicitor do their advocacy and took up his suggestion with alacrity, he says.

Despite the enthusiasm of clients for solicitor advocates, Mayhew insists they are not about to put the Bar out of business. And he is not alone in believing that important distinctions between the two sides will remain. A solicitor advocate cites as proof the conversations he overhears between barristers in the robing rooms - such as "Oh yes, he's such a sweetie, I'm surprised he hasn't made the High Court bench yet,"; and "no grouse shooting in Norfolk, then?"

You don't get talk like that at Highbury Magistrates' Court.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    1st Line Support Technician / Application Support

    £20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...

    Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

    Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

    Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices