The Law Society’s chief executive has urged super-regulator the Legal Services Board to delay implementation of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), in recognition of the ‘profound shifts and uncertainties’ afflicting criminal practitioners.
Within a year the scheme may be ‘meaningless’ to many firms under threat of extinction as a result of the price-competitive tendering (PCT) plans, he warns.
In a letter to LSB chief executive Chris Kenny, Desmond Hudson says September is ‘simply the wrong time’ to impose a ‘new burden’ on professionals who are concerned about their very survival amid plans for criminal legal aid tendering.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority approved QASA for September implementation at its last board meeting.
But Hudson stresses that the tendering plans will lead to the closure of many criminal firms and an ‘extremely uncertain’ future for individual practitioners.
The number of contract holders is expected to fall from 1,600 to 400; fees will be cut by 17.5%; and for those 1,200 firms cut adrift ‘it is difficult to see a viable business model outside legal aid provision likely to sustain a majority of those firms’.
Hudson adds: ‘If the (PCT) proposals go ahead, the overwhelming majority of criminal defence firms will not be practising in the way they are at the moment. We believe that the proposed implementation timetable of QASA at this stage of the exercise will be unhelpful.
‘Firms may perceive that they have better things to do in terms of their immediate survival than to engage with a quality assurance scheme that may well be meaningless to them within 12 months. Many may decide it is simply uneconomic to participate when they may no longer be part of the criminal defence system.’
Chancery Lane wants the LSB to allow regulators to delay the scheme’s implementation. Hudson has copied the Kenny letter to SRA chair Charles Plant, Bar Council chair Maura McGowan QC and Bar Standards Board chair Baroness Deech.