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Features of Advocacy in Court

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Law
Wordcount: 5235 words Published: 19th Sep 2017

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What is Advocacy?

Advocacy is when a solicitor attends court to represent their client. In simple form, advocacy is the art of communication. A solicitor will attend court and do the very best for their client to ensure they achieve the best possible result. It involves public speaking, which can be quite intimidating when you first attend court. However, with practice and experience the task does become easier. You will find that the more appearances you make at Court, the easier it will become and the more you will improve and become more confident. Your oral communication skills will develop and so will your ability to put forward structured and coherent arguments

Advocacy; the Legal Practice Course and Becoming a Trainee

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, which regulates solicitors in England and Wales and governs and sets the standard for Legal Practice Course Providers, states that advocacy and litigation is compulsory part of the Legal Practice Course. Advocacy skills are therefore assessed in the context of civil and/or criminal litigation. The Solicitors Regulation Authority lays down the requirements for advocacy in the Legal Practice Course and they expect students to formulate coherent submissions based upon fact, general principles and legal authority in a structured, concise and persuasive manner. Preparation is crucial and the student needs to understand the importance of it. The Solicitors Regulation Authority states that for the purposes of advocacy students need to do the following:-

  1. Identify the client’s objectives
  2. Bear in mind client care and professional conduct issues in preparing and presenting the case
  3. Identify and analyse the factual material
  4. Identify the legal context in which the factual issues arise
  5. Apply the law to the facts
  6. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the case from each party’s perspective.
  7. Present the case effectively.
  8. Outline the facts in simply narrative form
  9. Prepare the legal framework for the case
  10. Prepare the submission as a series of propositions based on the evidence.
  11. Identify, analyse and assess the communication skills and techniques used by other advocates.
  12. Demonstrate an understanding of the ethics, etiquette and conventions of advocacy.

The above 12 points are skills that the student should acquire in order to be a competent and confident advocate. The Legal Practice Course will introduce the student to the general principles of advocacy. Advocacy is taught through role-play and simulation through the subjects of civil litigation and criminal litigation. For example, the student may have to conduct an application for an interim payment or summary judgment in the context of civil litigation and be able to represent either the claimant or defendant. In the context of criminal law, the student may, by way of illustration, have to act for either the defence or prosecution in an application for bail, a sentencing hearing etc.

Following the Legal Practice Course and during the training contract the student will attend a Professional Skills Course. On the Professional Skills Course you will further develop your knowledge and skills of advocacy. During your training contract you should gain experience in preparing a case, conducting and presenting a case. Your advocacy skills will undoubtedly improve and develop in time.

Solicitors’ Rights of Audience

Under section 36 of the Access to Justice Act 2000 solicitors share with barristers a right of audience before every court. However, in relation to solicitors they are not able to appear as an advocate in higher courts unless they have satisfied the requirements of the Law Society’s qualification regime in relation to higher rights of audience. Solicitors can apply for higher courts qualifications and to do this they must pass written and practical examinations. Solicitors have automatic rights of audience in the Magistrates Court and County Court. In other courts such as the Crown Court and The High Court solicitors have limited rights of audience, although their rights of audience can be extended, as indicated above.

Effective Advocacy

Effective advocacy depends on two things; one is good preparation and the second is having persuasive oral communication skills.

1. Preparation

By preparing thoroughly you will gain knowledge of both the facts in the case and also the relevant law. If you have thoroughly prepared then you will have the confidence to make an effective presentation. Be very familiar with the case by reading the file to ensure you are familiar with all of the facts. Ensure you have obtained all the evidence you require and explored all necessary avenues. Research the law to ensure you can back-up what you say and are confident that it is correct. For instance, if you need to make a bail application, you would need to be familiar with the Bail Act 1976 and be able to apply the facts of your case to the law. Preparation is therefore fundamental to successful advocacy. By going through all papers filed in the case and all of the evidence you will need to formulate your argument and decide what evidence to call and what evidence of the other side you need to attack or undermine. Careful planning will also allow you to establish which witnesses you need to call and the order in which they should be called to ensure that the witnesses are presented in an order that presents your theory of the case in the best possible way.

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Have a Theory – You should have a theory of the case which is your version of the disputed facts. This will help you to formulate your argument and will help you decide what evidence you need to call. By having a theory it will help guide you through and will ensure you present your case effectively. Further, it will help you maintain a consistent and logical position throughout the case and will keep you focused. When formulating your theory for the case it is important that you do not do this too early in a case because if you do it too early you may discard alternative and stronger theories and ignore certain leads. Your theory should be close to the client’s account of events. It can also be useful if you consider what your opponent’s theory is likely to be as this will assist you in preparing for cross-examination.

2. What makes an Oral Presentation Persuasive?

There are certain qualities a good advocate will possess which will make their oral presentation persuasive. The student will find they will develop these through experience. The student should bear in mind the following factors as they will enhance their oral presentation and ensure it is persuasive:-

1. Eye contact – By maintaining eye contact with your listener it will enhance your oral presentation. It will show you are confident and it will also allow you to assess the reaction your submission is having on your listener. For example, you will be able to see if the listener is becoming bored and, if they are, you will know you have to move on accordingly or change your stance. It will also allow you to see if you are losing their attention. In addition, by maintaining eye contact with the listener it will stop you from getting caught up in your notes and this will avoid your advocacy having a lack of authenticity.

2. Voice – Before talking take a deep breath as this will help you to relax and it will enhance the sound of your voice. Do not talk too loudly or too aggressively, or be too softly spoken. Ensure you talk loud enough to be heard and talk clearly. Your delivery needs to be interesting. It may be useful to record yourself and then replay it in order that you can assess your delivery and this will help you improve.

3. Pace – You will need to pace your submission correctly. It is important that you do not present what you say too slowly or too quickly. Do not read from a prepared script as you are more likely to read too quickly and as a result the listener will not be able to follow your argument. If you present your argument too slowly this can make your listener lose interest in what you are saying. In order to adopt the required pace again it is a useful idea to record yourself and replay it.

4. Pause – This can be a very effective device when you are doing your presentation. You should use it for effect. For instance, if you believe the listener is no longer listening to you, pause and this will regain their attention because they will wonder why you have stopped. In addition, if you have a particularly telling point to advance, make the point and then pause. This will enable the listener to consider the point and will create more of an impact. It will also enhance the impact of your overall presentation.

5. Posture – Stand up straight with your head slightly elevated. Do not slouch. By having the correct posture it will help you look more confident and having a good posture will enhance the quality of your voice and make you appear more relaxed.

6. Distracting mannerisms – You may have distracting mannerisms but be unaware of what they are. It is worth recording yourself making an oral submission in order that you can consider whether your body language detracts from the message you are putting across. Distracting mannerisms could be, for example, fiddling with something in your pocket, clicking your pen, touching your face or hair. You may be doing these things subconsciously. When playing the recording consider whether you do any of these when making a submission and consider do you look relaxed and confident. You need to ensure that you do not have any mannerisms which distract from the message you are trying to put across.

7. Structure – Ensure your presentation is structured and this will make it persuasive. When planning your presentation devise a structure. This will ensure you do not repeat anything. When preparing your submission ensure it has a beginning, middle and end. Keep your submission concise. Avoid reading out sections from statutes and case law. Instead, highlight the relevant part of the statute/case and hand them to the judge/bench to read and simply refer to them and summarise the key points of the case/statute.

8. Brevity – Always try to keep your submission to the point. The court’s time is very precious. Through careful preparation and by having a logical structure in place will assist you in keeping your submission concise.

9. Persona – As mentioned above, it is important that when you are appearing as an advocate that you look confident. Even though you will probably be very nervous, anxious and not very confident when first attending court, you must try to look confident. By dressing appropriately, in a smart suit, you will look the part and this will help with your confidence. Further, by looking the part the client will have confidence with you and you will convey the correct impression to the court. Remember that first impressions count. Be organised and this will help ensure your composure and professionalism come across.

10. Language – Bear in mind that words can be a very powerful tool with which to covey a message. Carefully choose your words and consider whether there is a more powerful adjective which will advance the point you are trying to make. When making your submission try to use language which involves the listener. For example: ‘Sir, if I could refer you to the prepared map of the road. This identifies where the collision occurred’.

Professional Ethics

Solicitors owe a duty to their clients to do the best for them. In addition, solicitors owe a duty to the court and the administration of justice. A solicitor owes a duty to the court to act with independence and in the interests of justice. A solicitor must never deceive, or knowingly/recklessly, mislead the court. For instance, if a client admitted to having misled the court in any material matter relating to the ongoing proceedings a solicitor must not act further in those proceedings unless the client agrees to disclose the truth to the court. A typical example of this would be where the client has misled the court by pleading not guilty when he admits he has misled the court because he has told you he is guilty. If the client admits his guilt to you, you cannot continue to act on the client’s behalf because you would be deceiving/misleading the court.


You need to be familiar with the etiquette of the court you are appearing before, such as the correct way to address the court, your opponent and witnesses. The following details the ways you should address the bench, the other side and witnesses:-

  • Addressing the Bench

You should address members of the bench in the following ways:

– A Bench of lay magistrates should be addressed as ‘Your worships’ or ’Sir/Madam and your colleagues’.

– A circuit judge/recorder should be referred to as ‘Your Honour’

– A district judge of the High Court and County Court should be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’

– A master of the Supreme Court or a taxing master should be addressed as ‘Master’

  • Addressing the other side

If the person representing the other party is a Barrister you should refer to them as ‘my learned friend’. If the other party is represented by a solicitor you should refer to them as ‘My friend’. If the other party is acting as a litigant in person you should refer to them as ‘the claimant/defendant’ or ‘Mr/Mrs/Miss …….’.

  • Addressing witnesses

You should address witnesses directly as ‘Mr/Mrs/Miss ….. etc’. If the witness is a child they should be addressed by their forename.

Presenting the Evidence

To establish and enhance the credibility of your case, ensure your evidence is consistent with the established facts, common sense and within itself. If one of your witnesses gives inconsistent evidence this will cast doubt on the remainder of their evidence. By way of an example, a witness says that X was wearing an orange t-shirt at the scene. In his evidence X denies he was wearing an orange t-shirt because he does not have one. The prosecution then produce CCTV footage showing X wearing an orange t-shirt. This would cast doubt on X’s statement and it will also undermine the whole of his testimony. You therefore need to ensure that your evidence will be consistent to avoid it being undermined.

When planning your submission you need to consider which witnesses to call and the order in which they are called. In doing this, remember that this order needs to develop your narrative as your witnesses are telling your story. When considering the order in which to call your witnesses remember that your story needs to be presented in a logically progressive way. This will make it easier for the listener to follow and understand your case. Do not be too stringent however in deciding the order in case any last minute problems arise. You need to be able to adapt your evidence accordingly. Once you have decided the order in which your witnesses will appear, you need to think about your questions.

Examining Witnesses


This is where you obtain evidence from your own witnesses. You need to ensure that your witnesses give clear evidence and that they do not talk too fast in order that notes can be taken. Ensure the witness faces the Judge when answering questions and is not looking at you. This will enhance the quality of their evidence. When asking your witnesses questions, you need to try to elicit from them only the evidence that is relevant. Always therefore bear in mind why you are asking your witness a particular question and what is you want to hear from them.

Leading Questions

During examination-in-chief the solicitor advocate is forbidden from asking their witnesses leading questions. A leading question is one which requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. In its phrasing it suggests its own answer. By way of an example, was the man wearing a red and white jumper? By suggesting the answer to the witness you reduce the witness’ impact. Leading questions are forbidden in examination-in-chief because the solicitor is not allowed to lead their witness and in effect put words into their mouth. When you call your own witness you hope and expect that they will provide evidence that is favourable to your case and will ‘come up to proof’.

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As a general rule when you ask your witness questions you should phrase your questions using simple words and phrases to ensure the witness fully understands what you are asking them. When questioning your witnesses consider using points of reference to add variety to your questioning and to move the witness along from one episode to the next. For example, ‘can you tell us what happened after you saw the car swerve?’

Unfavourable and Hostile Witnesses

You will, at any early stage in the proceedings, take statements from each of your witnesses. When a witness is giving their evidence through examination-in-chief you would expect them to give answers consistent with their previous statement. However, in some situations a witness does not give the answers expected of them. The witness can then be declared either unfavourable or hostile.

Unfavourable Witnesses – An unfavourable witness is one whose testimony does not advance the case of the party who called him, despite the witness’s best intentions. A witness will be unfavourable if they cannot recall some of the facts about their testimony. If you come across an unfavourable witness you can ask the court for leave for the witness to refresh his memory by reading his previous statement. It is very often the case that cases come to trial many months after the witness has provided a statement. Therefore, it is important that before your witness gives their evidence that they have the opportunity to read their previous statements to refresh their memory so that when they are being asked questions they are familiar with what they said in their original statement. They are then less likely to become an unfavourable witness and will hopefully enhance the strength of your case. If after reading their previous statement the witness still cannot recall the facts then you cannot assist your witness by putting leading questions or prompting them. You should instead try to get the witness out of the witness box as soon as possible.

Hostile Witnesses – A hostile witness is different from an unfavourable one. Whilst an unfavourable witness can be potentially damaging to your case, a more serious situation is having a hostile witness. A witness will be ‘hostile’ if the evidence they give is harmful to the side calling them and it conflicts with the expectations of that side. A hostile witness will have no desire to tell the truth and support the case of the party calling him. An example of a witness being hostile is a witness who has deliberately changed their evidence since they made their original statement. The party calling this witness can ask the Judge to grant leave to treat them as a hostile witness.

Open and Closed Questions

You can ask your witnesses a variety of open and closed questions. To obtain the information you require from a witness it will be necessary to use for example closed questions to establish the background and set the scene and to bring out details or emphasise a particular part of the story. Open questions will be necessary to allow the witness to freely tell their part of the story or to turn their attention to a subject and then ask the witness to talk about that subject. If you ask more closed questions, you will have greater control. However, what type of questions you ask will depend on the witness.


This is the process of questioning your opponent’s witnesses. The purpose of cross-examination is firstly to establish and advance you own and case and secondly to attack the other side’s case. Before you cross-examine a witness you need to consider whether the evidence they have provided in chief is harmful to your case. If you establish that their testimony has not been harmful then you need to conduct a constructive cross-examination showing that he/she is to be trusted. There is little point in trying to undermine a witness who has provided favourable testimony. On the other hand, if a witness’ testimony has been harmful to your case then in cross-examining them you will seek to either challenge their evidence as inconsistent, improbable or unrealistic, or you will challenge the witness as mistaken or untruthful. If you decide to undermine a witness you need to elicit from them the favourable evidence they provided first and then continue to discredit them. It is important that when cross-examining witnesses that the questioning is constructive to obtain support for your story and destructive questioning to challenge a version of the story which is not accepted by you.

The cross-examination of witnesses needs to be structured and this can be achieved through appropriate planning. Your cross-examination will be structured if you follow the following steps:-

(i) Keep your cross-examination to four points which support your theory of the case. This will strengthen your argument

(ii) Make your strongest points at the beginning and end of your cross-examination as these are the points likely to remain in the mind of the listener

(iii) Anticipate what the answer will be before you ask the question. The purpose of cross-examination is to obtain favourable facts and minimise the impact of the evidence-in-chief.

(iv) Do not write a script which you follow as this will not allow you to respond effectively to the witness and will weaken your argument.

(v) If the witness says something you do not agree with do not argue with them as this undermines your own credibility and will ultimately impact upon your case. If you are pleasant and courteous to the witness, the witness should relax and cooperate with you.

(vi) Do not ask the witness open questions as this gives them the opportunity to say what they like. You need to ensure that you ask closed questions or leading questions as this can help you keep control of the witness.

(vii) If the witness during the examination-in-chief has said something which favours your case, then during the cross-examination you should make the witness repeat it for emphasis.

(viii) You should put your version of the case to the witness and give them the chance to accept or deny it.

As indicated above, one part of cross-examination is challenging the opponent’s case. This involves either discrediting the evidence or discrediting the witness. When cross-examining a witness you need to bear in mind that most of them are not lying. They are often trying to provide an account of the events as they saw them. You should therefore be careful if you decide to attack them as untruthful. It is best to focus upon the manner in which they saw the event. For example, from a distance, poor weather conditions, only got a quick glimpse of the event etc. You should then ask leading questions which suggest to them that they may have mistaken what they saw. In addition, you should look for any inconsistencies with what a witness has said during the trial and what they have said in a prior statement. If you notice any differences, you should ask the witness to repeat the fact which they gave in evidence-in-chief and the read out the part of the previous statement which is inconsistent and ask the witness if they made that statement. This will show that what the witness has said is inconsistent and it is will assist you in challenging the opponent’s case.

Differences between examination-in-chief and cross-examination

With examination in chief the witness is allowed to tell their side of the story. In cross-examination you do not want the witness to tell the story. You indicate the point you wish to make and put it to the witness. Leading questions therefore are used in cross-examination. Leading questions provide for effective cross-examination because the facts are supplied by the advocate instead of the witness and the advocate has most of the control in order to get to the point they want to make. During cross-examination you do not want a witness to tell their story, you want them to verify the particular matters that you put to them.

Examination of Experts

One of the first questions to be asked to an expert witness in examination-in-chief will be to establish their credentials as an expert in the particular field. You need to consider what the expert says in his report and put questions to him. An expert’s testimony can sometimes be difficult to attack because an expert’s testimony primarily consists of opinions and conclusions. It does not consist of fact. If you do not agree with the testimony of the expert you will need to challenge it by asking the expert appropriate questions. If the export supports your case, you will need the expert, in his oral testimony, to answer questions which show how the experts support your case to enhance your overall argument.


Once a witness has given their evidence-in-chief and been cross-examined by the other side the solicitor may re-examine their witness. The purpose of re-examination is to give the witness an opportunity to explain any matters raised during cross-examination and is therefore limited to only those matters that were raised during cross-examination. It is not another opportunity to go through the evidence provided. An example of when re-examination might be necessary would be where the cross-examination has perhaps shown the witness’ testimony to be muddled and confused. Alternatively, you might want to use re-examination if during the cross-examination inconsistencies have appeared between a witness’ testimony and a prior statement. You can use re-examination to highlight flaws and/or inconsistencies in the other side’s case or alternatively to attempt to correct anything during cross-examination which potentially could be damaging to your case.

Opening and Closing a Case

If opening a case you should always introduce yourself and the other side to the Court. For example: Your Honour/Sir/Madam/Master I appear in this case for the Claimant and my friend Mr/Miss/Mrs.…… appears for the Defendant.

  • Civil Matter

In a civil trial the claimant’s solicitor will make the opening speech. The opening speech involves taking the judge through the statements of the case and providing an outline and guide to your case. It should provide a summary of the evidence that will be produced and should not go into any details in relation to the content of the testimony. The opening speech will detail the issues to be decided and you should provide a summary of the facts that you seek to establish. However, in the county court the defendant’s solicitor can make the opening speech and if they do they are not entitled to make a closing speech, without the leave of the court. You should hand the judge a bundle of documents and take him or her through the chronology of the matter to provide the judge with a picture of the events in the case. The opening speech should be lively and interesting to engage the court. You should use plain language and use eye contact to build rapport with the judge. You should refer to your client by his or her name in order to personalise them, and refer to the other side, for example as the ‘respondent/defendant’ etc.

Following the opening speech the claimant will give their evidence. This is done by oral examination and the sequence of the questioning is examination-in-chief of the claimant’s side (to include witnesses), cross-examination by the defendant’s side, re-examination. The defendant will then give their evidence and can make an opening speech. The judge can, however, dispense with this, particularly in fast-track cases. The sequence of questioning for the defendant’s evidence (to include witnesses) is examination-in-chief by the defendant’s side, cross-examination by the claimant’s side and re-examination.

The defendant may make a closing speech and the claimant will then make a closing speech. In a civil matter the claimant’s solicitor will always have the final word. The closing speech is your final attempt to address the court. It should integrate the evidence the court has heard with your theory of the case and present your underpinning argument. In your final speech you should rebut or explain the evidence that weakens your case and explain how the law applies. If in your opening speech you raised questions, then in your final speech you must answer them based upon the evidence that has been heard. The closing speech should be well structured, be easy to follow and sum up the major points.

  • Criminal Matter

In criminal matters the prosecution have the right to make an opening speech. If it is a simple case then very often the Prosecution will forgo an opening speech. If the Prosecution do decide to have an opening speech it should be kept brief. It should provide a non-contentious summary of the case. The Prosecution then proceed to present their case. After their evidence has been heard the defence have the opportunity to give an opening speech and the present their evidence. If the defence decide to make an opening speech it should start with a comment on the evidence given so far by the prosecution, then provide an outline of the evidence to come and conclude with a summary of the questions that they think need to be answered.

The closing speech is the final attempt to address the court. It needs to integrate the evidence that has been heard with your theory of the case. Both the Prosecution and the Defence have the opportunity to give a final speech. The closing speech should be short, but long enough to cover the ground and make any final impact.


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