Blow to criminal bar as QCs kept in accreditation scheme

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QCs will have their own discrete level of accreditation in the controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) announced today.

The move will be welcomed by the Law Society, which was adamant that QCs be included in the scheme, but disappoint the Criminal Bar Association, which argued that QCs should not be required to be reaccredited.

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The JAG today published amendments to the advocacy accreditation scheme, the launch of which has been delayed to September, following an analysis of 348 responses to its fourth consultation.

The main changes are:

  • The period in which candidates must undergo judicial evaluation has been extended from 12 months to 24 months.
  • The number of judicial evaluations that advocates are required to undertake has been harmonised across the scheme.
  • A new level, ‘4QC’, has been introduced to differentiate QCs from other level 4 advocates.
  • The scope of appeals for decisions taken under the scheme has been standardised across the three regulators.
  • The definition of ‘criminal advocacy' has been reviewed to ensure it includes the necessary categories of criminal work.
The joint group said that the scheme will be introduced in phases, given the numbers of advocates involved.

Further work will be undertaken to ensure consistency of the rules across the three regulators, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), ILEX Professional Standards and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

A JAG spokeswoman said: ‘In considering the range of responses we received, our focus remained on ensuring a tripartite scheme in the public interest.

‘We remain committed to the introduction of the scheme in 2013 – the September launch date has allowed us to consider the substantive and constructive suggestions we received to make the necessary revisions to the scheme.’

She added: ‘The changes we have made address the responses we received about the proportionality and practicability of the scheme. We will continue to review the scheme once it is operational and will make any further changes as required at the point of the review of the scheme in 2015.’

BSB chair Lady Deech said that the consultation report explains which responses JAG was not able to accommodate, either because 'they were minority views' or because they would 'divert QASA from the legislative objectives that must underpin the scheme'.

For example, she said JAG decided to keep silks within the scheme and also to retain an assessment route for advocates who do not undertake trials.

Deech explained: 'This will allow for all criminal advocates to be assessed under the same scheme against the same standards.'

She said: 'Concerns about non-trial advocates were only expressed for the first time through the process of developing QASA. We now understand that this form of practice has operated for some time without any significant calls for regulatory intervention.

'The BSB believes it is better to include non-trial advocates in the scheme, and subject their practice to scrutiny alongside all other criminal advocates rather than to let it continue unchecked outside QASA.'

Deech said: 'It is also important for the comprehensiveness of the scheme for silks to be included. Under the scheme all criminal advocates will have to confirm their competence every five years and there is no compelling case for silks to be exempt from this requirement.

'However, following feedback the scheme has been amended to include a level 4QC. This will highlight that in addition to having been accredited at level 4 by their regulator they have also been appointed QC as a mark of excellence in practice.

She added: 'Nevertheless, and in response to a number of comments raised in the consultation, the regulators have agreed to open discussions with queen's counsel appointments on whether there is scope for any continuing quality assurance role for their office in the reaccreditation of QCs in the future.'

Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, president of the Law Society said: 'Most of the headline items in the latest announcement on QASA from the Joint Advocacy Group were already known. The JAG seems to have tried to address the concerns of the Criminal Bar Association about the position of QCs by creating a separate category for them at Level 4.

'However the Society always has been adamant that QCs must be covered by the scheme like every other advocate appearing in the criminal courts.

'The arrangements for appeals under the scheme are new and we will study them. However the fact that the scope for appeals against decisions under the scheme has been standardised across the three regulators is very welcome. In a previous consultation the SRA appeared to be adopting a far more rigid stance to the regulatory changes necessary for QASA to be implemented.

'At the time the Law Society made the point strongly that there should be no additional regulatory burden for solicitor advocates as compared to barristers.'

The full consultation report is at the BSB site.

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