Solicitors’ rights of audience, competence and regulation: a responsibility rights approach

Ching, Jane. “Solicitors’ rights of audience, competence and regulation: a responsibility rights approach.” Legal Studies 41.4 (2021): 585-602.

This paper takes as its context the decision of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales to abandon before the event regulation of lower court trial advocacy. Although solicitors will continue to acquire rights of audience on qualification, they will no longer be required to undertake training or assessment in witness examination, by contrast with other, competing, legal professions. Their opportunities to acquire competence outside the classroom will remain limited. The paper first explores this context and its implications for the three key factors of rights to perform, competence and regulatory accountability. The current regulatory system is then displayed as a Hohfeldian network of rights and duties held in tension between stakeholders intended to inhibit the incompetent exercise of rights to conduct trial advocacy. The SRA’s proposal weakens this tension field and threatens the competitive position of solicitors. The paper therefore finally offers a radical alternative reconceptualisation of rights of audience in terms of Waldron’s ‘responsibility rights’ as a solution, albeit one with significant implications for the individual advocate. This model, applicable globally, is closer to notions of societal good and professionalism than to those of the competitive market, whilst inhibiting incompetent performance and remediating the SRA’s approach.

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