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Regulators at loggerheads over QASA

2 March 2012

The Bar Standards Board has hit out at “last-minute” proposals from the SRA, which “may allow judicial evaluation to be bypassed” in the new quality assurance scheme for criminal advocates (QASA).

A spokesman for the BSB said today that judicial evaluation was “an essential guarantee for the consumer and one which places the public interest at the heart of the scheme.

“Advocates should be assessed in real-life situations by judges who have the skills to evaluate the quality of the advocacy before them,” he said.

The role of judicial evaluation under the QASA scheme was strongly criticised by Lord Justice Moses at the end of last month.

Moses LJ told barristers that “the need to be marked, to move up a level or maintain one’s grade” was “deeply inimical” to the proper relationship between advocate and judge and the trust clients had in that relationship.

“There is, I suggest, cause for a profound unease in the notion that, in the very trial which you face as an accused, your advocate has asked to be assessed,” he said.

The Law Society responded favourably to the comments, but Baroness Deech, chair of the BSB, said she believed it was important that advocates were assessed in real-life situations in the same way as other professionals, such as teachers.

Baroness Deech said today: “We are the majority regulator for advocates in England and Wales, and as such we take very seriously our duties to the public, to victims and their families and to others in the courts to assure the best possible standards of advocacy.

“We are keen to see a simple, unbureaucratic and workable quality scheme brought in as soon as possible.

“That is what we are urging the minority advocacy regulators to join us in – a scheme that will quickly benefit the public and courts and provide consumers with the reassurance that their advocate has faced robust judicial evaluation.”

However, Antony Townsend, chief executive of the SRA, said in response that the scheme “should not be used as a device to exclude the demonstrably competent simply because their pattern of practice does not include trial work”.

He said the SRA, “as regulator of over 11,000 advocates”, was ready to begin the rapid implementation of QASA “on the basis of the proposals agreed with the Legal Services Board and all the other key stakeholders”.

Townsend added: “We have urged the Bar Standards Board to agree.”

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