JAG’s proposed accreditation scheme — the Quality Assurance for Advocates scheme — will include four levels of advocacy, ranging from work in the magistrates’ court (level one) to complex Crown Court work (level four).

Judges will be asked for their opinion on each advocate’s performance as part of the accreditation process, and a ‘traffic light’ system will be used to identify under-performers. An independent body chaired by a senior criminal judge, the Performance of Advocacy Council, will act as the central assessor.

Most respondents agreed with the need to address performance as otherwise there was a risk of wrongful conviction, time wasting and reduced confidence in the criminal justice system. The majority agreed the market for criminal advocates was incapable of forcing out bad performers.

Some respondents favoured a voluntary scheme, and some argued the scheme risked compromising the advocate’s duty to fearlessly represent their client since it would be in their professional interest to gain a judge’s approval of their skills and conduct.

References from lay clients could form part of the scheme in the future, JAG said, although it is not practicable to include these at this stage. There was general agreement from respondents about the levels approach.

JAG said it has spoken to more than 50 judges who will be involved, and they have been “almost universally supportive” of the scheme and of the training they will need to undertake.

Lord Justice Thomas will chair an independent expert advisory group to advise the regulators on whether the scheme is working and is proportionate.
The group will comprise: an Ilex advocacy practitioner; a practising higher rights solicitor advocate; a practising barrister; a circuit judge; three lay members to represent the consumer interest; a representative from each of the Bar Standards Board, Solicitors Regulation Authority and Ilex Professional Standards; and a representative from the CPS. It will publish an annual report.

Thomas LJ said: “This step, taken by the regulators, should ensure engagement with interested parties and allow external scrutiny of the process.
“I look forward to working with all those involved to assist with the development of a robust and proportionate quality assurance scheme for advocates.”to scrrc@amca.org.uk by 21 April 2011.