A tiny number of criminal advocates has so far signed up to the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), suggesting a profession-wide boycott of the scheme is holding.
With two months to go until the revised deadline for registration for QASA’s first phase – relating to the Midland and Western circuits – a total of just 100 solicitors and barristers have so far signed up, out of the approximate 16,000 who need to.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) confirmed respectively that just 33 barristers and 67 solicitors had registered.
The registration rate shows little sign of accelerating, suggesting widespread doubt the scheme will go ahead. The first phase, which opened on 30 September, was due to end on 7 March but was extended to 30 May. Phase two, the South Eastern Circuit, is due to begin on 31 May and end on 3 October.
The boycott has persisted despite the legal challenge to the scheme failing. In January the High Court backed the scheme, with only a few minor reservations, and in February its decision. The Court of Appeal is currently considering whether to give permission to appeal the judicial review.
QASA is a regulatory scheme enshrined in the codes of conduct for solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives, and advocates will not be able to practise without accreditation once it begins operating.
The Criminal Bar Association, which has nearly 4,000 members and has vowed to boycott QASA, said the High Court judgment did not change its resolve not to sign up to the “flawed scheme”.
The main representative bodies have been circumspect about adding fuel to the boycott. Newly published minutes of last month’s Law Society’s council meeting recorded chief executive Des Hudson as advising: “Not registering for the scheme was not advisable as there may be sanctions. It was recognised that the number registered on the scheme is currently very small.”
In answer to council members’ questions, the minutes said that rather than support a campaign of non-compliance in protest against QASA, the Law Society was going to focus on issues around information and raising awareness. “It was recognised that some Law Society members were in a difficult situation as they did not want to register with the scheme because they did not agree with it.”
A Bar Council spokesman said it had issued no formal guidance to its members on QASA, adding: “The Court of Appeal is still deciding whether to allow the appeal on the judicial review and the Joint Advocacy Group [comprising the BSB, SRA and ILEX Professional Standards] has not made clear its final position as to timing. It would be prudent to allow both of those to run their course.”