The Legal Services Board today gave the final go-ahead to the controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates, citing poor standards of advocacy to justify its introduction.
The super-regulator said there is risk that needed to be addressed and that ‘while no single piece of evidence of systemically poor standards’ would suffice on its own to justify the scheme, there is ‘sufficient consistency of evidence and concern’ to warrant it.
The LSB said in a decision notice that concerns over advocacy standards have been expressed ‘over a long period of time’.
It noted: ‘There is a range of evidence that points towards a risk and in some places a pattern of advocacy not being at the required standard,’ including senior judicial comment, a QASA pilot and reports from HM’s Inspectorate on the Crown Prosecution Service.
‘The board is of the view that poor advocacy risks having a detrimental impact on victims, witnesses, the accused and on public confidence in the rule of law and administration of justice, and hence the regulatory objectives of protecting and promoting the public interest of and supporting the rule of law,’ it said.
The LSB said it had taken into account opposition to the scheme from many in the profession who dispute its evidence base, necessity, proportionality and targeting.
But it said: ‘Much of the disagreement about the extent of low standards of criminal advocacy and the risks that this poses stems from the lack of consistent and measurable evidence available under the current arrangements.’
The board said the proposed scheme ‘has the potential’ to provide ‘reliable and sustained evidence’ for approved regulators to measure and improve the quality of criminal advocacy over time.
The scheme was designed by the three main legal regulators – the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards – who make up the Joint Advocacy Group.
The final handbook for the scheme will be available on the regulator’s websites from August.
Despite pronouncements from both solicitors and barristers that they will boycott the scheme, it is scheduled to be introduced in phases, beginning from 30 September.
A spokesperson for the three regulators said: ‘We are pleased that the scheme has had the final go-ahead from the LSB.
‘QASA will work in the public interest by establishing a common set of standards for advocates across the three professions so that consumers can have confidence in the standard of advocacy they receive – regardless of their advocate's original route into the profession.’