QASA confirmed amid boycott pledges

Profession
The Joint Advocacy Group has published its response to the Fourth Consultation on the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), confirming the scheme outline announced at the end of last year.


Barristers will have 24 months to obtain the two required judicial evaluations, the individual regulators will have to develop arrangements to ensure disclosure to clients about how far the individual advocate will be able to progress their case (there will be an online, publicly accessible register of QASA accredited advocates) and the level of case will routinely be determined between the instructing party and the advocate.

QCs will be included in the scheme but differentiated by the separate category “Level 4 QC”.  Meanwhile, there will be discussion with Queen’s Counsel Appointments as to whether there is scope for any continuing quality assurance role for their office in the re-accreditation of QCs in the future.

The response, published on 26 March, notes that most of those who responded to the question about QCs were barristers and they opposed including silks within the scheme; whereas “a large number of responses from across the profession recognised the need for the scheme to apply to all practitioners undertaking criminal advocacy”.

Separately, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) issued a clarification on 9 April which stated that it was “well aware that the issue of inclusion of ‘plea-only’ advocates is seen by some as controversial”, but that it would be in the public interest to include them in the scheme: “They have practised without significant challenge from the Bar or the judiciary and no assessment for many years.” The BSB added: “It is not the purpose of QASA to pave the way for competitive tendering and case fees...The BSB would have introduced QASA irrespective of the government’s funding initiatives or timetable.”

In the same week, barristers on the Wales, Northern and North Eastern Circuits, where registration begins on 30 June 2014, voted that they will not register and pledged that they will not take work on the Western and Midland Circuits, where registration opens on 30 September 2013, should barristers there not sign up.

Announcing the result, Rick Pratt, QC, Leader of the Northern Circuit, said: “We are not opposed to the principle of quality assurance. We welcome regulation which makes quality of advocacy the determining factor as to who should appear in court and at what level of case. But the current scheme does not achieve that aim. It rewards competence, it will mean that the lowest common denominator becomes the norm rather than the very high standards which we have always valued.”

Further details of the scheme will be published in the QASA handbook in June.

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