The prospect of barristers boycotting the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) became almost certain on Saturday after all but one of more than 1,000 members of the South Eastern Circuit said they would refuse to sign up to it.
Crucially they agreed with the same unanimity that they would not accept instructions that members of the Midlands and Western Circuits, who will be the first subject to QASA, would be unable to do if they refused to join QASA.
While the other circuits have already voted the same way, the support of the South Eastern Circuit – announced to a packed meeting at Inner Temple that was beamed to various locations around the country – was seen as crucial to reassure those on the Midlands Circuit.
Sarah Forshaw QC, leader of the South Eastern Circuit, told the meeting that QASA was not fit for purpose “and will be defeated”.
Last week, the three regulators behind QASA – the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards – submitted the rule changes required to introduce QASA to the Legal Services Board.
The meeting also focused on the Ministry of Justice’s proposals for price competitive tendering in criminal work, which is seen as directly linked to QASA, and showed that the government is facing unprecedented and united opposition from solicitors and barristers – Greg Powell, managing partner of Powell Spencer & Partners and representing the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, addressed the meeting to express the solidarity of the solicitors’ branch of the profession.
On Wednesday there will be a rally against PCT outside Parliament followed by a ‘Justice for sale’ event attended by more than 1,000 solicitors and barristers at which their response to PCT will be debated. The Criminal Law Solicitors Association has said that they will be leaving many courts and police stations on emergency cover only as a result.
The meeting also heard calls for the judiciary to come out strongly against the cuts, and recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Anthony Hooper, who addressed the meeting, told the Sunday Express yesterday: “It is very difficult for serving judges to be critical of Government policies but I can tell you I have spoken with them and they are extremely concerned.”
“I’m afraid we are abandoning quality and replacing it with the lowest bid,” he told the paper, identifying the loss of client choice and the potential for conflicts of interest arising from fixed fees as the key flaws.
Michael Turner QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association – which has led the campaign against both QASA and PCT, told Saturday’s meeting that the civil Bar was supporting their criminal colleagues and public law specialists were working pro bono on possible legal challenges to PCT.