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

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
nflAtlanta Falcons can't count and don't know what the UK looks like
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

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

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

    Helpdesk Analyst

    £23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London