Scheme will place a further tension on an advocates duties to the client
The Joint Advocacy Group, made up of the SRA, Bar Standards Board and ILEX, has launched its fourth and ‘final’ consultation on the quality assurance scheme for criminal advocates (QASA).
After months of wrangling, and an outspoken attack by Lord Justice Moses in February, the regulators announced in March that they had come to an agreement. Since the QASA notification process went live on 2 July, the SRA has said more than 2,500 solicitors and registered foreign lawyers have completed it. The deadline for solicitors is 21 September 2012.
A spokesman for the JAG said the latest consultation would enable the introduction of a single quality assurance scheme for all criminal advocates.
“We are pleased to report that QASA has the support of the Lord Chief Justice and other senior members of the judiciary,” he said.
“At a meeting on 18 May 2012, the Council of Circuit Judges gave their continued support for the scheme and judicial participation within it.
“We have held meetings with judges in a number of court centres. These have been overwhelmingly positive and reflect the level of judicial commitment to the scheme.”
The spokesman said the latest consultation would take account of discussions with the judiciary, the CPS, the Criminal Bar Association and Solicitors Association for Higher Court Advocates.
He said it would focus on arrangements for accreditation at Level 2, levels within the scheme (including youth court work) and implementation.
Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said the effect of the proposals would be that the bulk of the solicitors profession will lose the right to appear in criminal matters in the magistrates courts.
“This rationale is questionable. Solicitors are under a duty to act only where they are competent and there is little reliable evidence to suggest that they are not following this rule. We are also concerned that the proposals are unlikely to reflect the realities of practice for many solicitors who appear in the magistrates courts.
“We are concerned, also, that the BSB has not joined the SRA in requiring advocates to register for the scheme. If the scheme is to have credibility it must be applied equivalently across all regulators and both professions. If the BSB is already being inconsistent at this stage it bodes ill for the future.
“Furthermore, we reiterate our concern that judicial assessment is an inappropriate tool because it will place a further tension on an advocate’s duties to the client, since there will be a conflict between their interests in receiving a good mark from a judge and their clients’ interests in being fearlessly and robustly represented in court.”
is due to be implemented in January 2013.