The controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) has been formally consigned to the history books for barristers - though oversight regulator the Legal Services Board (LSB) has pledged to keep a watchful eye on advocacy standards.
In a notice published at the end of last week the LSB said it had ‘approved in full’ an application by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) to remove QASA rules from the BSB handbook. However, noting the BSB’s admission that regulatory intervention was still required to address poor advocacy, the LSB warned that it would hold the regulator to account to ensure that it provides a ’robust and proportionate’ response to quality risks in advocacy.
QASA was originally proposed as a joint venture of the BSB, Solicitors Regulation Authority and CILEX Professional Standards. Under the scheme, which originated from Lord Carter’s review of legal aid procurement in 2006, criminal advocates would have been obliged to apply for accreditation. The idea was to tackle concerns raised by judges about the quality of advocacy, but the scheme was hugely unpopular and faced strong criticism.
A challenge to the approval of the scheme was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2015.
The BSB said in November last year that it no longer intended to proceed with the scheme and would instead a different approach. It would ‘instead look to put in place a strategy that is more consistent with its risk- and evidence-based approach to regulation’.
The BSB noted however that there is ‘little to suggest’ that criminal advocacy standards have changed – citing joint research by the SRA and BSB into judges’ perceptions of advocacy standards.
The SRA and CILEX have yet to officially outline their future plans regarding QASA.