The Legal Services Board has called for the ‘fastest possible’ implementation of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) - even though the High Court has yet to rule whether the scheme is lawful.
In its submission to the Review of the Provision of Independent Criminal Advocacy, being undertaken by Sir Bill Jeffrey, the LSB says that frontline regulators should move to implement the controversial scheme on the ‘fastest possible timescale’.
The LSB says that senior members of the judiciary have argued that ‘quality shortfalls’ in criminal advocacy have increased since Lord Crater of Coles first highlighted the problem in 2006.
QASA is a ‘robust and visible’ mark of competence, the LSB said: ‘It is a sign of both the profession and regulators responding to a long established need to ensure ongoing competence rather than simply ability at the time of authorisation.’
The LSB said the scheme, which opened for registration in September, will for the first time ensure comparable data about where advocacy shortfalls arise.
At present, it said, assertions have been made that solicitor firms may cut corners to use the cheapest rather than the most suitable advocate.
Four criminal barristers, with the support of the Criminal Bar Association and circuits, sought a judicial review of the LSB’s decision to proceed with the scheme, which they asserted, among other things, was unlawful.
Three High Court judges, led by Sir Brian Leveson, heard the case earlier this month and are expected to give judgment in the new year.
LBS chief executive Chris Kenny said: ‘There is little evidence to suggest that there is any shortage of advocates at any tier of the criminal courts and arguments that such shortages will arise are not persuasive. I don’t believe that regulation or broader public policy should be used to protect any particular business model nor that there should be significant governmental intervention into the operation of the market.’
Kenny said the challenge to the professions is to help advocates diversify their practice into other areas that are busier or better paid.
He added: ‘There is significant unmet demand for legal services in many areas, something which would be considered an opportunity in many other sectors of the economy.’
Read the full submission here.