The QASA consultation deadline is looming – 9th October. This is a big one, it’s the last chance for lawyers of all stripes to have any input into the scheme and I would urge everyone to get involved and respond.
If you don’t know, QASA is a scheme that has been cooked up by the three bodies that regulate criminal advocacy – the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards. The basic idea is that all cases are rated on a difficulty level of ‘1-4’ with all the Crown Court cases being 2,3 or 4. In order to be able to do a case, the advocate will have to be accredited at that level. Accreditation for Crown Court trials will only be done by Judicial Assessment.
QASA is controversial within the profession and there is much opposition. Behind it all there is the turf war that has been going on between the Bar Council and the Law Society over Crown Court advocacy. Much of this has centred around the idea of ‘plea only advocates’ – whether you need to be at a Grade 3 advocate to do a Plea and Case Management Hearing for a Grade 3 case (this is due to the way that the Legal Aid payments are made).
I am completely opposed to QASA. The main problem that I have with it is the fact that it has been imposed on us without any evidential foundation that there is a problem and, more significantly, that this will solve any of the problems. The Bar Council were supportive and were pushing the idea, seemingly as they thought that it would be a way of getting one over on solicitors. In this, I think that they were wrong. Not only was it quite petty, I think that it could potentially backfire on the bar (and shows again the danger of the Bar Council not being properly representative of its members).
My response to the consultation is here. It’s not too late to give your views. As always, you are welcome to steal as much of mine as you want, or give me comments on whether I’m right or not (and whether I’ve misunderstood anything in my response). I’ve tried to concentrate on points that haven’t been covered by other responses in as much detail. The main points are:
- There is no evidence that QASA will work – specifically, there is no evidence that Judicial Assessment is valid (and it is highly likely to be discriminatory)
- The Bar Council’s views on plea-only advocates are short sighted and not thought through
- Silks mut be included in the scheme
- The requirement to notify clients has the potential to open up a whole can of worms that doesn’t seem to have been considered
- The scheme may adversely impact on barristers, particularly in London
- The scheme may be unfair to solicitors
- The treatment of Youth Courts is wrong and contrary to the stated principles of the scheme.
That there are some bad advocates out there, and that the public should be protected from them, is something all can agree on. This scheme however will fail to deal with that. The more people that respond to the consultation and object to it, the more clear it will be that this does not have the support of advocates. But, whether you agree with me or not, make your voice heard.