Mr Justice Calvert-Smith, who had just emerged from an extended meeting with the court’s resident judges, was blunter: “It’s going to happen, whether we like it or not.” The former DPP explained that the judges—who will be the assessors of counsel’s performance in court—are of two minds: they are concerned at opening a rift with the Bar, but believe that it is their historic role to regulate access to the courts, which they should not give up “without a scrap”. 

Browne supported the method by stating that the judges are the “primary consumers of advocacy”. The aim is to produce one standard for all; although the CPS, which already operates an internal QA scheme, will also be taking part. Much, however, needs to happen before one can achieve what Calvert-Smith J hopes will be something “where a much more light scheme will do the job” and silks are no longer part of it.

Meanwhile, the pilot will be “challenging assumptions”, a representative from Cardiff Law School explained. QCs will be included to see whether the process of applying for silk really does only produce those of the highest standard—in which case they can be “passported” into the relevant level. At the same time, if it is found that a barrister is consistently accepting briefs for work which is above his level of competence, that will become a regulatory/disciplinary issue and solicitors will need to be told of the problem.

The message throughout from both Browne and South Eastern Circuit Leader, Stephen Leslie QC, was that supporting the pilot was a way to “embrace quality”. Even the spirit of Dunkirk was not far behind, as the message from the Leader of the Western Circuit was passed on: “We’ve got to be in this to win this.”

For more information on taking part in the QAA pilot, contact Sinead Reynolds at the Legal Services Commission on 020 7783 7421 or