The controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) will now go live in April 2012, it emerged last week.
We can also reveal that contingency plans have been drawn up for the judiciary not playing its expected role in QASA.
The Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) – made up of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards – has agreed a programme of further work so that QASA can be implemented in April, rather than this December, as originally planned after various questions were raised about the scheme.
Further, as first reported on Legal Futures, there is to be a phased roll-out of the scheme by area.
In a statement, the JAG also committed to working with stakeholders to explore the issues raised during the current consultation on the regulatory changes needed to implement the scheme – the closing date for which was recently extended by a month to 7 November.
The group said it would make “any necessary changes to the scheme in the public interest, in time to prevent any unnecessary exclusion of certain patterns of practice”.
The statement said: “The new approach is designed to ensure that the final scheme protects the public interest across the wide variety of criminal advocacy practices, does not have any unintended consequences for those practices, and maintains momentum.”
Late but vehement opposition to elements of the scheme from the Law Society and Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates has prompted the rethink.
We understand that the Legal Services Board (LSB), which is overseeing the introduction of QASA, is not happy with the latest developments, but said in a statement: “The JAG is keeping us informed of progress and we are pleased that they are rapidly addressing outstanding issues in order to maintain momentum towards implementation.”
Recently released LSB papers show that in July, the full board agreed in principle that the design of QASA “represented an acceptable approach to addressing quality risks in the criminal advocacy market that was consistent with the regulatory objectives”, subject to receiving reassurances on some final points.
The board noted: “Risks to the successful implementation of QASA included the possibility of limited and/or inconsistent judicial support, but that this would be monitored (including through the publication of assessment data) and contingency plans had been agreed to scale up the assessment organisation route.” It also said the judiciary recognised that it had a vested interest in the quality of advocacy.
Though the Law Society and Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates had reiterated their objections to the use of judicial evaluation, the LSB said their submissions “raised no new points of argument”.