It is almost ten years since Lord Carter recommended that there should be a scheme for assuring the quality of advocacy in the criminal courts. Since then, there has been a good deal of debate and litigation about how this should be achieved leading to the development of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocacy (QASA).
Lord Chancellor’s Consultation
In addition, the Lord Chancellor issued a consultation paper on assuring the quality of criminal advocacy in 2015. An outcome is awaited.
The three main regulators – the BSB, SRA and CILEx Professional Standards – reached agreement on a scheme (QASA) in 2012. However, implementation was delayed by judicial reviews. The Supreme Court finally concluded that there was no obstacle to its implementation in 2015. In the autumn of 2015, the regulators issued a consultation on minor changes to the rules. We await the outcome of that.
Main Features of QASA
Anyone undertaking criminal advocacy will need to be registered with one of the three regulators at one of the four levels:
- Level 1 – magistrates court work
- Level 2 – general Crown Court work;
- Level 3 – more serious Crown Court work (e.g burglary, fraud, some sex cases)
- Level 4 – most complex cases (serious fraud, serious sex offences, murder).
Advocates wanting to conduct trials levels 2-4 must receive assessments from judges in front of whom they have appeared in such cases, which indicate that they provided competent advocates.
Advocates who do not wish to undertake trials (but do want to appear in administrative and sentencing hearings) will need to attend an assessment centre.
Advocates who only undertake level 1 work will need to undertake assessed continuing professional development.
The QASA handbook, issued by the regulators, as at 2013, can be found here.
The Family Law Bar Association and the Chairman of the Bar wroteof to Shailesh Vara, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, setting out concerns about standards of advocacy in family case. I understand that Mr Vara proposes no action on the concerns at this stage.