Explaining the rationale behind the decision, BSB Chair Baroness Ruth Deech said: “The Ministry of Justice is scheduled to publish their final plans for legal aid during the first QASA registration period. Whilst QASA is a guardian of competence, not a pricing system, and sits separately from government plans, we recognise that the Bar will need time to reflect once the final legal aid plans have been announced.
“In addition to QASA, the BSB is working to help barristers adapt their business models so they can continue to provide excellent advocacy if the Government does choose to procure services in the new way,” she added.
All the Circuits apart from the Western, which was ballotting its members as Counsel went to press, have voted to boycott the scheme and pledged not to accept instructions on the Midland and Western Circuits. Announcing the result of the South Eastern Circuit vote on 20 May, Leader Sarah Forshaw QC said: “We have nothing to fear from a proper quality assessment... But what has emerged from the whole process is a quality assessment scheme that we believe to be fundamentally flawed.”
The BSB has denied any link between the extension and the boycott proposals. A spokesperson commented: “The BSB understands that the Circuits have voted to oppose quality appraisal as a means of expressing a view about the MoJ consultation on legal aid. That is misguided. QASA is there to protect the public from incompetence.
“The MoJ consultation raises distinct issues of public importance which need serious debate. A boycott of QASA is neither in the public interest nor an appropriate means of making that case.”
Michael Turner QC, Criminal Bar Association Chairman, said to Counsel: “If they are not linked, why not put off QASA until after the introduction of the contracts?”
The scheme’s final design was signed off by the BSB, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards in April and submitted to the Legal Services Board for approval on 8 May. Although failure to register for QASA is not in itself a breach of the Code of Conduct, it would be a disciplinary offence to undertake criminal advocacy without being part of QASA.