Divisions over quality assurance for advocates have deepened after solicitors were advised not to take part in a Bar Standards Board survey on the issue.
Legal Futures understands that the future of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) is now genuinely in doubt, with specialist Bar associations also being urged to oppose it.
Though work on QASA first began in 2009, and it is scheduled to begin shortly, it has only been in recent months – with the details of the scheme agreed by the three regulators behind it, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Bar Standards Board (BSB) and ILEX Professional Standards – that opposition has hardened. QASA is also supported by the Legal Services Board.
Last week Lord Justice Moses fuelled the fire with a speech attacking the role of judges in assessing the performance of advocates before them, one of the key components of the scheme.
The BSB has commissioned ORC International to conduct a survey seeking the views of the profession as to the frequency with which they encounter underperformance in the criminal courts. The results will be used to provide a baseline ahead of the implementation of QASA.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association has advised its members not to take part in the survey. In a statement, it said: “ORC propose to approach solicitors t
o complete either an online survey or a telephone survey. The SRA has not been consulted or had any input into this survey.
“Sadly QASA and the design of any scheme has been an area of conflict between the Bar and solicitors, with the Bar favouring an exclusive reliance on judicial evaluation. The CLSA cannot therefore recommend co-operation with this survey as we did with the SRA survey.”
The Law Society almost went as far. It told solicitors: “The SRA has not endorsed the research and we believe this project should be supported by all the regulators. If you are contacted, you may wish to bear this in mind when deciding whether to respond.”
Both the Law Society and CLSA also backed Lord Justice Moses’ critique. Law Society chief executive Des Hudson said: “We have long been concerned that the involvement of judges in assessing the advocates in front of them will cause considerable difficulties for advocates in advancing the interests of their clients. It is also inevitable that the ratings will be used in appeals.
“The Law Society supports a proportionate system of quality assurance for advocacy but we doubt that this is the way of achieving it. We would urge the regulators to listen to the concerns of a senior and experienced member of the judiciary on this point.”
Meanwhile, Marc Beaumont, chairman of the Public Access Bar Association, has written to his counterparts at other specialist Bar associations, telling them that the Bar should ignore Sir Alan Moses’s speech “at our peril”.
He said: “It is impossible to understand how QASA can be lawful. If you wish to be free to continue doing your job for your clients without fearing a black mark from the judge, please support us in our view that QASA should be scrapped… QASA for crime today is QASA for all forms of Bar work tomorrow. This affects all of us.”