The three main legal regulators have extended the registration timetable for the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) and modified its design in line with recommendations made by the High Court.

But in a joint statement issued today the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG), which designed QASA, ruled out delaying the start of the scheme until after the Jeffrey review of the provision of independent criminal advocacy.

Barristers on the Midland and Western circuits, the phase required to sign up, now have until 30 May to do so, extended from 7 March (and previously extended from 10 January). Registration for the other circuits have also been extended.

Those on the South Eastern circuit must register by 3 October and those on the Northern, North Eastern and Wales and Chester circuits have until 31 December.

To date only 11 barristers have registered.

The changes follow the High Court’s dismissal last week of a judicial review sought by the criminal bar. The court suggested four amendments to improve the scheme. JAG has agreed to revise the scheme accordingly. The changes are:

  • Amendment to the criminal advocacy evaluation form (CAEF) to require an advocate to identify when they were first instructed;
  • Amendment to the CAEF to require an advocate to identify whether advice on evidence was provided;
  • That a judge should be permitted to decline to complete an evaluation if he or she believes, because of the circumstances, it would not be fair to do so;
  • In the event of a third judicial evaluation becoming necessary it should be of the first trial conducted by the advocate in front of a judge other than either of the judges who conducted the first two assessments.

In addition, the regulators will change aspects of the QASA rules and handbook which the court found to be ambiguous.

Following the re-drafting, JAG, which, represents the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards, will send the changes for approval to the Legal Services Board and will re-issue the handbook by the end of February.

However, JAG rejected the court’s suggestion that the start of the scheme be delayed until after the Jeffrey review, which is expected to report in March. 

JAG said: ‘The judgment makes it clear that the regulators have a duty to assure the competence of those they regulate. The judgment notes that the Jeffrey review will be of relevance to this duty and to the development of QASA but there is no suggestion, explicit or otherwise, that the scheme should be delayed pending its publication.

‘Each of the regulators represented on JAG has engaged with the Jeffrey review and will continue to do so and we await Sir Bill’s report with interest. A review of the operation of QASA during its first two years has already been agreed, and any relevant recommendations from the Jeffrey review will be considered as part of that.’