More time to obtain judicial assessments and greater recognition for QCs have emerged as key amendments to the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), leaving some of the most contentious aspects – such as plea-only advocates – unchanged.
Following the announcement last week  that agreement over QASA had been reached, but implementation delayed, the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) yesterday provided more detail about the technical details that are still under discussion.
The JAG comprises representatives of the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards. It said it received 348 responses to the fourth QASA consultation, although 200 of these were “short endorsements” of either a circuit response or the Criminal Bar Association’s hostile submission. JAG is not publishing a summary and analysis of the responses until an unspecified time in the New Year.
The JAG statement said: “It was clear following analysis of these responses that some adjustments to the scheme need to be considered.”
However, the core aspects of the scheme are not changing, such as the central role of judicial evaluation, the alternative use of assessment centres for entry to the scheme at Level 2, the assessment method for those advocates who do not undertake trials – that is, plea-only advocates – periodic re-accreditation and a phased geographical roll-out.
The first set of agreed changes are under the headline ‘proportionality and operational feasibility’ and mean the period of time for collection of the two competent pieces of judicial evaluation required to enter the scheme will be extended from 12 months to two years. The evaluations would need to be obtained in successive effective trials over the two-year period.
A level 2 advocate, who has been assessed as competent against all the standards at an assessment centre would similarly require two judicial evaluations over two years should they wish to undertake trial work at level 2.
QCs appointed since 2010 will be passported into the scheme for up to five years from the date that they were awarded silk. QCs appointed before 2010 will register as QCs and be assessed against the standards and criteria for their chosen level through gaining two judicial evaluations over two years. There will be a separate QC label – such as ‘4QC’ –to differentiate them from other level 4 advocates.
The JAG said discussions should also begin “immediately” with Queen’s Counsel Appointments “on how to align or integrate the quality assurance and re-accreditation of QCs in the future”.
Among the other issues still under discussion are the categorisation of the level of the case and the role of the judiciary in assigning levels to a case; ensuring that each regulator’s rules achieve consistency of outcome to support the single scheme; the definition of criminal advocacy and the application of the scheme to specialist practitioners; the submission of evaluation forms directly to the regulator by judges; and consistency of the approach to dealing with appeals against decisions taken by the regulators under the scheme.
The JAG said it hoped that “operational agreement” on these will be reached “reasonably quickly”, but that no further details – including the revised timetable for implementation – will be available until the end of January 2013, when the scheme was meant to have started.