QASA ruled to be lawful

The Criminal Bar Association’s (CBA) fight against an introduction of the controversial Legal Service Board’s (LSB) new rating scheme was finally ruled on by the High Court yesterday.

CBA claimed that Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates, known to all as QASA, is unlawful and “offends fundamental issues of justice”, but the court rejected all presented challenges.

Led by Dinah Rose QC and Tom de la Mare QC of Blackstone Chambers, as instructed by Joanna Ludlam of Baker & McKenzie, the claimants argued that the LSB had exceeded its statutory remit by introducing the scheme. That wasn’t it. They also contended that to assess advocacy during a trial would undermine a principle sacrosanct to the Bar – that of independence from other bodies. Especially the judiciary.

They did not stop there either. Arguing that the QASA scheme would breach Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights rounded off the claim. It was their submission that this breach would be caused given advocates assessed under the scheme would not be given sufficient appeal rights.

In a sign of solidarity to their CBA colleagues and awareness of what they arguable perceived as a threat to the Bar, these ‘stars of the Bar’ waived their fees as claimant counsel. Serious business indeed. So much so that the court recognised this, stating that the judges wished to record their “gratitude to the solicitors and counsel for the claimants for acting pro bono".

This sort of commitment makes clear that the CBA and their representation were adamant the scheme was to be defeated. But this was not to be, and the ruling was in favour of the LSB as QASA was ruled to be a lawful scheme.

Many of the profession’s legal representative bodies were party to the proceedings. The Bar Standards Board, Solicitors Regulatory Authority, ILEX Professional Standards and the Law Society were privy to and represented (ILEX aside in terms of representation) in the hearing. Such interest underlies the scale of this sort of conflict. The CBA themselves are, as recognised by the court, “under very considerable pressure at the present time”. Facing wholesale criminal legal aid cuts on top of QASA is a context that no doubt added fervor to the action brought by the claimants.

Understandably, the LSB’s chairman David Edmonds was content with the outcome. Stating the judgment “vindicated” the process followed by the LSB in establishing QASA, as well reiterating that the standards of advocates would be improved in the public interest, he went on to make clear the implementation of the scheme was to become a reality.  

Here ends one chapter of the CBA’s fight against changes being imposed upon their area of the profession. Arguably, this will only inspire greater impetus to be given to their parallel battle with the Ministry of Justice concerning legal aid cuts. Though this remains to be seen, as one fire is put out, another may well be spreading.

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