The High Court is unlikely to give judgment in the legal challenge to the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates before the end of term, due to the volume of evidence and complexity of the issue, the judge in the hearing, Lord Justice Leveson, said today.

At the end of a three-day hearing, Leveson, who had indicated at the start that he would rule before Christmas, said he had not expected the case to involve 17 lever-arch files of paperwork, such lengthy skeleton arguments and the amount of additional material served.

Admitting that he is not a ‘master of all the points’, he was ‘not prepared to guarantee’ judgment before the end of term, 20 December. 

The court is conducting a judicial review of the criminal advocacy accreditation scheme. The claimants argue that the scheme is incompatible with the independence of the judiciary, threatens judicial independence, is contrary to EU law and is disproportionate. They also argue that the Legal Service Board’s decision to approve the scheme should be quashed on the basis of its role in designing it.

In response, the Legal Services Board argued that the independence of neither advocates nor judges would be affected by the operation of QASA; EU rights were not engaged by the scheme; and that QASA is proportionate. The Bar Standards Board made similar submissions.

The hearing ended on a note of confusion today, after disagreement over the rules relating to the operation of the assessment scheme in circumstances where an advocate fails ‘level 2 competency’.

For the claimants, Dinah Rose QC expressed concern that the operation of the scheme would have an adverse impact on the junior bar, who would face assessment on the first two effective trials sent their way, regardless of the quality or timeliness of the instructions. Rose suggested that the impact of the judicial assessment could be career-ending. This might put overwhelming pressure on the advocate, creating a conflict of interest or cause the client to lose faith that the advocate was advancing their cause fearlessly.

After counsel for the Bar Standards Board accepted that he had mis-stated the impact of level 2, the court asked him to submit a note on the correct position, requesting it be kept short as ‘we are already overwhelming with paper’.

Leveson thanked all the advocates, expressing particular gratitude to the claimants’ eight-strong legal team, led by Baker & McKenzie partner Joanna Ludlam and Blackstones’ Rose QC, who all acted pro bono.

The case is brought in the name of four barristers: Katherine Lumsdon, Rufus Taylor, David Howker QC and Christopher Hewertson, It is supported by the Criminal Bar Association.