Monday’s failed judicial review of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) has done little to quell the mutiny among criminal law barristers, even though the Bar Standards Board has called on them to “respect the court’s decision”.
Those in the Midlands and Western Circuits now have until 7 March to register if they want to continue practising criminal advocacy, but counsel have been lining up online to express their continued opposition to the scheme and intention not to sign up to it.
Argent Chambers in London was arguably the most vocal, issuing a statement that its members “are opposed to the proposed QASA scheme and will neither sign up to it nor accept instructions on circuits where it has been introduced”.
It said members were “extremely disappointed” by the High Court ruling. “It remains the firm view of the members of Argent Chambers that, far from safeguarding standards, the scheme will achieve the precise opposite and lead to an erosion of standards in representation.
“We also believe that the QASA scheme places at risk the independence of the advocate, which is an important constitutional safeguard in our legal system and essential to the proper administration of justice.
“We note that, within their judgment, the High Court did identify a number of flaws in the system, and invited the Legal Services Board to delay the development and implementation of QASA until after the report of the Jeffrey review. We very much hope that the Legal Services Board heeds this advice.”
Bar Standards Board chief executive Dr Vanessa Davies said it will be giving “careful consideration to suggestions made by the court and any other matters which appear relevant from the judgment”.
She continued: “The board will be discussing the judgment and we will make further announcements as soon as reasonably possible. We appreciate that some members of the profession will be disappointed by the outcome of the judicial review, but we look forward to working constructively with the profession to implement the new scheme.
“We hope advocates will respect the court’s decision and understand that, as a regulator with a duty to safeguard clients, it’s only right that the Bar Standards Board acts to stop those advocates who fall short.
“We will do our best to support barristers in due course through registration and accreditation. We remain confident that the majority of barristers will complete the process without any difficulty.”