The attorney general gave his support to the controversial quality assurance scheme for criminal advocates last night, labelling lawyers’ refusal to be assessed as ‘counter-productive’.
Speaking at the launch of the Bar Standards Board’s handbook, Dominic Grieve QC (pictured) also warned of the danger of excessive regulation of the legal profession – while stressing there is no going back to pre-Clementi days.
The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA), he said, is a matter for the regulators, not the government, but he said it is not possible for the profession to avoid such a level of scrutiny.
‘I support any process that helps to promote and bolster the high standards of which the criminal bar is rightly proud, and which weeds out those who are not able to achieve them.
‘For a profession like ours, which prides itself on quality, to refuse to be assessed does not strengthen their case and indeed is in my view completely counter-productive.’
This week’s High Court judgment dismissing the criminal bar’s judicial review of the scheme, said Grieve, recognised there are problems that need to be addressed, but he said that did not indicate a ‘fundamental flaw’ in the principle of assessment.
On the thorny issues of plea-only advocates, Grieve said they are ‘here to stay’ and are nothing new.
Everyone who has practised in the criminal courts, he said, will be familiar with the self-employed barrister who ‘through inclination’ has limited their work to pleas and mitigations. ‘Not everyone relishes the drama of the trial.’
Grieve stressed the government’s desire to reduce the regulatory burden on the legal profession, warning of the danger of excessive regulation.
‘I believe strongly in the independence of the professions. I do think there is a danger that our regulators could be drawn into over-regulation or micro-management of the professions,’ he said.
On the government’s review of legal regulation he said: ‘I am sure the justice secretary would want me to say that this review does not necessarily presage major changes in the statutory framework for regulation, such as the abolition of the Legal Services Board.
‘Though I note that the LSB, by calling for a new single regulator to be created from scratch, has in effect proposed the bold step of its own abolition.’