The Legal Services Board (LSB) is set to begin work on a a review of continuing competence that will revisit the possibility of formal periodic reaccreditation for lawyers.
The LSB said its experience of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) would be “of particular relevance” to the review, despite the fact QASA was not going ahead.
The oversight regulator said it had expressed its support for formal periodic reaccreditation during its “quality assurance drive” in 2011-13, as had the Legal Services Consumer Panel.
Both organisations noted concerns about “overreliance” on continuing professional development to provide assurance of continuing competence.
Doctors, for example, have to go through a revalidation exercise – an evaluation of their fitness to practise – every five years.
QASA would have introduced four different tiers of competence for criminal advocates, linked to the complexity of work that advocates would be entitled to undertake, with assessment required for progression to a higher level.
It would have required five-yearly assessment and reaccreditation of competence.
In a paper before its board earlier this month, the LSB said: “Our experience of QASA will be of particular relevance to this review as a benchmark for a programme which, in theory, saw the three largest regulatory bodies [the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Bar Standards Board and CILEx Regulation] accept the adoption of a more robust assessment of ongoing competence.”
Earlier this year, the LSB said that it would not consider that solicitor-advocates were effectively monitored to ensure standards were met until the SRA developed a “new approach to ensuring continuing competence of solicitor-advocates” following the demise of QASA.
The LSB said in the board paper that “more broadly” none of the legal regulators “currently require, or have set out plans to require, any formal assessment or quality monitoring of authorised persons”.
The LSB’s 2019/20 business plan contained a commitment to “conduct a thematic review of how regulators ensure that the people they regulate remain competent throughout their careers”.
The legal regulators were divided in their opinions on this during the consultation on the plan. The SRA, CILEx Regulation and the Law Society welcomed it, but the Bar Council said the LSB should “objectivity demonstrate” that there was a need for additional assurance, as it believed the current systems in place for barristers were sufficient.
The LSB paper said the review might involve commissioning fresh research, but it would begin with a call for evidence and include external meetings and workshops “to ensure we build a strong understanding of the issues, challenges and tensions which exist in developing a new approach for the legal profession”.
The review is expected to be completed within the next two years.