Todd: we must make the arguments now

The chairman of the Bar Council has called for a last stand against several “objectionable” elements of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA).

In his monthly report, Michael Todd QC said the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has made it clear that it intends to introduce over time quality assurance schemes across all areas of legal practice. If any of these elements become embedded in the criminal scheme, “we can expect to see them in future schemes for other practice areas. The pass will have been sold”.

The deadline for responses to the fourth and final QASA consultation is 9 October ahead of its roll-out, and he highlighted the Bar’s ongoing opposition to the plans for plea‐only advocates, grading of cases by solicitors; and the inclusion of silks within the scheme.

“The objections have been made, but those elements remain,” he said. “Many of those issues are of importance to the due administration of justice, to proper access to justice, to the public interest, others to the Bar as a whole.”

Mr Todd has written to the chairs of specialist Bar associations and to all heads of chambers, encouraging them to put in responses to the consultation. “I encourage as many of you as possible to respond; don’t leave it to others to make your points; don’t just say that you agree with the response of one association or another, because there can be little doubt that such responses are discounted…

“If we don’t make the arguments now, if we do not dissuade it from its present course, we will be left with, and we will be bound by, the scheme as presently formulated, whatever the public interest, whatever the impact on the profession.”

At the same time Mr Todd expressed concern at “the level of disengagement of the Bar, particularly in the circuits, with the Bar Council”.

Meanwhile, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has reminded solicitors and registered European lawyers wishing to undertake criminal advocacy from January 2013 that they have until 21 September to complete the preliminary notification process under QASA. To date just under 7,500 have notified the SRA of their intention to seek registration.

Provided they are registered, all solicitors and RELs will be eligible to enter QASA at level 1, enabling them to undertake criminal advocacy in the magistrates’ courts; those with higher rights of audience (crime) will be able to enter at levels 2, 3 or 4 to undertake work in the Crown Courts.

Once accredited in the scheme, advocates will be able to move from one level to another by a process of formal assessment, and will also need to seek reaccreditation once every five years.

Details of the notification process can be found here.

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