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Barristers in the Youth Court must declare they are competent to represent vulnerable children

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has introduced new rules that require barristers practising in the Youth Court must declare their competence to do so.

Details

In October 2017 the BSB announced that, following consultation, it had approved a number of rule changes for barristers renewing their practising certificates. The rule changes would include obliging barristers who work in the Youth Court to register the fact.

The purpose of the new rule is to allow the BSB to identify barristers who are working in the youth court and to promote standards in those proceedings.

The new rule change affects all pupils and barristers applying for, or renewing their practising certificate:

  • Rule S59 of the BSB Handbook sets out that barristers working in the Youth Court and those who intend to do so in the next 12 months must register with the BSB and declare that they have the specialist skills, knowledge and attributes necessary to work effectively with vulnerable children and young people, which are set out by the BSB in the Youth Proceedings competences and guidance (‘the competences’).
  • The Youth Proceedings Advocacy Review in 2015 found that standards of advocacy in the Youth Court were variable and as a result the interests of some of the most vulnerable people within the criminal justice system were not being adequately represented. As a response to the Review, the BSB published the competences.
  • There are many ways to demonstrate competence to practise in the Youth Court. It is expected that most advocates will undertake a specialist training course. Barristers may also acquire the specialist skills, knowledge and attributes from academic or vocational qualifications, pupillage or previous work experience; reading resources such as the BSB’s guidance or the toolkits available on the Advocates Gateway; informal or formal training including shadowing and any other relevant learning.
  • Registered, practising barristers will have to answer a mandatory question when renewing their full practising certificate, asking if they have accepted instructions to work within the Youth Court in the last 28 days, are currently instructed and/or intend to undertake Youth Court work in the next 12 months. The fact that a barrister is registered to undertake Youth Court work will start to appear on the Barristers Register from May 2018.
  • The BSB may choose to review barristers who are registered for Youth Court work. This may mean looking at CPD records or asking barristers to provide evidence in support of their declaration of competence.

Commentary

This is a welcome and long over due reform, YJLC has worked hard to achieve recognition that criminal lawyers representing children require specialist knowledge and skills. The Bar Standards Board registration scheme will also enable barristers who develop a Youth Court practice to be recognised as specialists. We hope this will improve the status of this area of work and remuneration. The expectation is that Mandatory high quality training is now also needed to ensure legal representation is always of the very best standard for every child and the reform needs to be extended to the adult magistrates’ court and Crown Court too.