As some of our members will no doubt be aware on Tuesday 7 October 2014 the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, delivered the judgment of the Court of Appeal in relation to the judicial review appeal relating to the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA). To read the full judgment click here.
Whilst currently the scheme is only intended to focus on advocates engaged in criminal defence work The Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) has long maintained that this is likely to be 'the thin end of the wedge’ and question how long it will be before regulators will seek to create similar schemes for advocates undertaking family work, civil or commercial cases.
SAHCA considers the Court of Appeals’s judgment to be disappointing but recognises the possibility that the parties, who bravely chose to bring the proceedings, may yet seek to appeal matters to the Supreme Court.
However, SAHCA finds it interesting that the Court of Appeal specifically remained silent as to the value of QASA saying simply, “It is no part of the court’s function to express any view about the merits of the scheme."
SAHCA hopes that the Legal Services Board and all of the other regulators will now take time to reflect upon the judgment and upon the perhaps understated observation made by the Court of Appeal that, "this is a controversial scheme on which opinions are sharply divided”.
SAHCA requests that before the Legal Services Board, Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards rush headlong into implementing the scheme that they urgently review the actual need for the scheme, especially in light of the recent findings of Sir Bill Jeffrey in his review into criminal advocacy in England and Wales in which he complimented the training provided by SAHCA (paragraph 3.7), and other organisations, and stated in his fifth recommendation that,
“The profession[s] should work together, with the regulators, to develop common minimum expectations for continuous professional development training (CPD) for advocates in the Crown Court.”
SAHCA has long proclaimed this to be a far more sensible and proportionate option than the current QASA scheme, especially if certain amounts of CPD, specifically focussed on developing advocacy, were made mandatory. SAHCA further confirms that it remains ready, willing and able to engage with the regulators, as it always has, to achieve such an outcome.
In addition, before bringing in a scheme whose whole raison d’être, as SAHCA has repeatedly emphasised, is based upon anecdote, conjecture and assumption, SAHCA urges the Regulators to tackle Sir Bill Jeffrey’s eleventh recommendation and “develop relevant data on criminal advocates and advocacy”.
QASA may not be DEAD but it should be put on HOLD.