The Law Society’s criminal litigation accreditation scheme (CLAS) is redundant, has no influence on clients and plans for reaccreditation are strongly opposed by the profession, the body representing criminal law solicitors has claimed.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association also accused Chancery Lane of seeking to extract money from a sector of the profession that it knows is operating “at the margin of financial viability”.
In a strong response to the society’s consultation on CLAS re-accreditation, the association said the proposals fail to recognise since it was launched in 1999, “there have developed far more relevant and onerous requirements which leave CLAS a redundant scheme”. These include Legal Services Commission demands and the new Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates.
“We reject the notion that CLAS has any influence upon criminal clients’ selection of their lawyer or that CLAS has any credibility with those clients. The Legal Services Commission has only ever required that those undertaking police station advice and duty court representation are appropriately qualified so to do and the measure of qualification they have so far adopted has been to accept the CLAS qualification.
“The commission has publicly stated that it has imposed contractual quality requirements in respect of this work and would not therefore look beyond those contractual obligations. We would not expect them to make it a requirement in the 2015 contract.”
The response said the consultation simply supports the Law Society’s efforts to create a uniform re-accreditation structure across all of its accreditation schemes. “It does not consider the need for such a system in the light of the changed requirements since 2001.”
The association also questioned the cost involved. “We fail to see why simple self-certification of six hours’ CPD should cost £200 + VAT (£240).
“We understand that the current proposal would require up to 5,701 practitioners to re-accredit by 31 December 2012 a cost to the profession of at least £821,040 and possibly as much as £1,368,240 on present Law Society estimates of the number of CLAS members who will be required to re-accredit by that date.”
In recent years the Law Society has recognised “that the profession is operating at the margin of financial viability and yet the society proposes to levy an additional fee every five years upon those very lawyers it has supported in the past”.
The response concluded: “We would urge the society not to underestimate the profession’s opposition to re-accreditation stemming as it does from an unwarranted increase in overhead costs at a time when criminal law practices have suffered from repeated cuts in income derived from reduced rates and a general reduction in workload across the criminal courts.”