The Silent Advocate

08/03/2017 14:01

The concept of a lawyer often brings with it a presumption that the lawyer has fantastic performance skills and can convince a jury through a clear voice.

Is this absolutely essential to a good advocate? That is what I am trying to find out in my Master's dissertation and I thought that I would quickly summarise it below.

I have a speech impairment which makes it difficult to understand the words that I am saying, especially if you don't know me or there is background noise. I do however have an LLB and have passed the Legal Practice Course. I understand advocacy and have always found arguing quite fun. Some people suggest that I use a voice synthesiser to convey my submissions. While on the surface this seems to be an obvious answer, it is worth going back to the Romans.

Cicero, Aristotle and Quintilian all wrote substantial pieces on rhetoric and all argued that delivery was far more important than content. They argued that man is swayed by emotions far more than he is by reason and logic. For this reason, the voice would carry far more power than that of paper or a voice synthesiser.

While this is important it has been interesting to see that very few of the regulators for advocates mention the voice in their requirements to be for example a competent barrister.

It would be impossible to quantify the importance of the voice in a trial and that is not what I intend to do but I would like to figure out what I would lose if I was to try to deliver a case against somebody not disabled.

I often refer to the social model (a concept that states people have impairments but are only disabled by external forces) but it is difficult to see if the social model really is relevant in this situation. It may well be the case that the voice carries such an important persuasive role in court that it is essential for the advocate.

This should not be examined without looking at the role of technology. There has been a recent experiment by UCL which has told a computer algorithm many of the facts and relevant laws surrounding human right judgements in Strasbourg. The results have been very similar to what the judges decided a computer clearly isn't influenced by the emotional aspects of the human voice, yet can still conclude similar results.

On the other hand, Lord Justice Briggs has suggested moving money claims online. This would remove human aspects of advocacy and move somewhat closer to the continental inquisitorial system. This seems to be suggestive that the human voice is not as essential as one initially thought.

Ultimately, this comes down to what is court about. If there was a clear-cut answer the parties would have not ventured for litigation so there is clearly some doubt in one of the party's case. It is for both parties to try to persuade the judge that their argument is more credible, whether this should be an emotional response or a logical seems to be the question that is constantly debated. This is crucial to determining if I can have a role in advocacy or not. Of course, I am able to present very simple facts and legal arguments however, should the human elements of a barrister of an advocate be essential to the role it may not be a fair trial for my clients.