QASA - on a road to nowhere?

The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) has not been welcomed by many in the legal profession. This rejection has recently reached new heights, with a judicial review of the scheme being heard in November.

Advocates are by definition those who work within the realm of persuasion. In the legal sphere, this is a skill that whether done on paper or in front of a jury is practiced with varying degrees of competency. It would seem that in the criminal field at least, the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) places these standards towards to lower end of this scale – especially when assessing criminal representation. Comprised of members from the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS), the JAG earlier this year decided enough was enough. The solution: Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates. In the interests of brevity, it’s collectively known as QASA.

What is it? Well, it is intended to do what is says on the tin. Practitioners under each JAG group members’ jurisdictions, in criminal cases only, would need to be accredited under the scheme. Level 1, you are good for work in the Magistrates Court. Level 4? Welcome to the Crown Court and beyond. Oh, and watch out especially for the judge after QASA’s inception. The scheme would incorporate judicial evaluations of advocacy skills. This in effect means advocates who fall foul of these assessments would need to be re-accredited.

Surely given each of the respective practitioner’s regulators created QASA, the practitioners beneath them are ready to welcome it with open arms? Wrong. A judicial review of it on its way, and it is no joke. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) are backing the proceedings, with Baker & McKenzie, and Blackstone Chambers’ Dinah Rose QC and Tom De La Mare QC representing. For free. Not only that, but The Law Society has recently intervened in proceedings. Their objection is that the scheme undermines criminal justice, by forcing advocates to think more about style than substance.

The progression of QASA has been volatile at best. Some members of the BSB’s board have even resigned over the wrangling on costs between the parties to the judicial review. Even the Legal Services Board’s legal director Nick Glockling criticised the scheme during approval discussions. Yes, that’s right – the very body that approved QASA in the first place.

Where QASA will end up remains to be seen. With so many in the profession against it and impending judicial scrutiny, its chances of survival are not looking good. Watch this space. 

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