15 Oct, 2012

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has called on the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to consider carefully whether its proposed Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) will protect and promote the public interest in its current form.


QASA, which will initially only affect the criminal Bar, seeks to enforce a grading system (assessed via judicial evaluation) to ensure that criminal cases are assigned only to those with the requisite experience and ability. The Bar Council has today responded to the BSB’s latest consultation on the scheme, calling for it to reconsider several aspects to ensure that QASA has the desired effect.


Michael Todd QC (pictured), Chairman of the Bar, said: “We recognise that there are calls from a number of quarters for a quality assurance scheme, which the regulators are eager to impose; regardless of whether or not the case has been made properly that such a scheme is required.


ldquo;If a scheme is to be imposed, we believe that it needs to deliver the outstanding quality which the public interest demands, both in terms of representation and the due administration of justice. It should not simply provide a low minimum standard of competence or accredit advocates who are neither qualified nor capable of acting at trial, as this scheme does.


“We have also expressed concerns about the categorisation of certain cases, which does not always reflect their potential complexity and may result in difficult work being assigned to advocates without the requisite experience. The public interest requires judicial assessment of case level to ensure that an appropriately skilled advocate is briefed and appears in court.


“We also see no reason for those who have been appointed as QCs under the current system to require QASA accreditation. The QC award denotes excellence in advocacy in the higher courts. In our view, it is beyond question that the process is both rigorous and impartial. The possibility of reaccrediting silks was extensively considered and rejected when the new QC appointments system was introduced, after full consultation on the issue. There is no evidence base to support backtracking from that position.


“Regrettably, the scheme as proposed is ill-considered. The proposals are not the product of evidence-based research nor demonstrable concerns. In seeking to appease sectional interests, they do not serve the public interest, which should determine the outcome of this consultation.”

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