BAR REGULATOR APPROVES QUALITY ASSURANCE FRAMEWORK FOR CRIMINAL ADVOCATES
17 Jun, 2011
A new scheme to assess the performance of criminal advocates has been given the green light by the UK’s Bar Standards Board (BSB) at its meeting on 16 June.
The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) is a joint project by the BSB, Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards. Its aim is to respond to Lord Carter’s 2006 report, which identified ‘a client driven need for the quality assurance of advocacy’ to ensure that all advocates appearing in the criminal courts are operating to consistent standards.
The three legal regulators have worked together as the Joint Advisory Group (JAG) to develop a scheme that promotes the regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act 2007. The main principles of the scheme are:
- All advocates will be assessed against agreed standards
- Advocates will be accredited at one of four levels – a level one advocate undertakes work in the Magistrates Court and a level four advocate is able to appear in the most serious and complex hearings in the Crown Court
- Advocates may progress through the four levels by demonstrating through assessment that they meet the required standard for the next level.
- Advocates who remain at the same level must re-accredit once every five years
- There will be two methods of assessment within the scheme – judicial evaluation of performance in real trials and assessment through simulated exercises at an accredited assessment organisation
The scheme has already been approved by the Board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and will be considered by ILEX Professional Standards in July. If approved by all three regulators, the proposals will be submitted to the Legal Services Board, the overarching legal regulator, in July. The rules and regulations that will underpin the scheme will be submitted to the LSB in September, with a view to the scheme being introduced in phases from December 2011.
Commenting on the scheme, Sam Stein QC, Chair of the BSB’s Quality Assurance Committee and BSB representative to the Joint Advisory Group, said: “Our justice system is dependent upon high quality advocacy to deliver fair results. For defendants reliant on effective representation in the criminal courts the stakes are high, loss of liberty is a real possibility. That is why we have been working with the SRA and ILEX Professional Standards to develop a more proactive approach for ensuring consistent standards of advocacy.
“Our challenge has been to achieve consensus amongst those involved in the criminal justice system on how a scheme should operate in practice. We have developed our proposals in close consultation with the professions, the judiciary, consumers and interested bodies such as the Ministry of Justice, Legal Services Commission and Crown Prosecution Service. BSB approval of a scheme which carries the support of all of these parties marks a significant achievement for the Joint Advocacy Group and for all three individual regulators.
“We have worked hard to protect consumers and the public interest, but we have also been determined to agree a scheme that is workable and proportionate for those who will participate in it. The inclusion of court-based assessment has kept the costs of the scheme to a minimum. It is estimated that barristers who act within their competence should pay an average of no more £50 each year over their career. This will minimise the financial impact on a practice area which is already under significant economic pressure.”