The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has given way on the final outstanding issue on the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates and it is now to begin in the summer.
The scheme for criminal advocates was being held up over the BSB’s insistence that solicitor-advocates who conduct plea-only hearings and not trials in the Crown Court should have to undergo the judicial evaluation that is at the heart of the scheme for trial advocates.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority opposed this – and as we revealed recently, it appeared to have the support of the Legal Services Board in doing so.
Final agreement on the shape of QASA has now been reached and only those conducting trials will have to undergo judicial assessment. Plea-only advocates will enter the scheme via assessment centres and will be assessed against the QASA standards to show that they are trial capable.
This indicates some concession towards the BSB as it had been proposed that plea-only advocates would only be assessed against the aspects of the QASA standards that were necessary to conduct such cases.
The scheme will begin in summer 2012, with advocates notifying their regulators that they will be seeking accreditation through the scheme. A final consultation fine-tuning the detail of the scheme will also be issued. Judicial evaluation will be phased in from late 2012 and will be available on all circuits by late summer 2013.
There will be ongoing monitoring, evaluation and data gathering on all aspects of the scheme for two years from implementation. After this, the scheme will be reviewed and amended, if necessary. This was the compromise that the Legal Services Board was understood to be pushing.
QASA – which also involves ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) – will provide a route by which all advocates, regardless of their prior education and training and professional qualification, will be assessed against a common set of standards.
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “I am delighted that we are proceeding with a joint scheme for the quality assurance of advocacy in the criminal courts. This is a vital step to ensure that all those who are reliant upon advocacy services are able to access competent advocates to undertake their work.”
BSB director Vanessa Davies added: “One scheme for all advocates has been our aim throughout the development of QASA, because that is what best serves the public interest. I am very pleased that we have now reached agreement on the final aspects of the scheme and look forward to continuing to work with the other regulators to ensure its effective implementation.”
IPS chief executive Ian Watson added: “IPS is ready to implement QASA for CILEx advocates and associate prosecutors. It is time to move to the practicalities of implementation and we’re looking forward to achieving that this year in line with the agreed timetable.
“The commitment to further research and evidence gathering during the start-up phase of the scheme is vital if an effective and stable quality assurance scheme is to be established in this essential area of legal work.”
Around 8,500 criminal advocates provide defence and prosecution services in the Crown Courts in England and Wales, of which 2,500 are solicitor-advocates and 6,000 are barristers. In addition there are another 10,000 or so solicitors, CILEx Advocates and CPS associate prosecutors who provide advocacy services in the magistrates’ courts.