A new initiative, the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates known as QASA, has come into force requiring criminal lawyers to be accredited.
‘The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) will help to protect consumers from underperformance in advocacy giving them confidence that the fair and proper administration of justice is safeguarded.
“The Scheme will see judges routinely monitor and assess the performance of criminal advocates. Consumers will benefit from the fact that advocates will only be permitted to practice at the level (and those below) at which they have been accredited, ensuring that they only take on cases within their competence.”
The scheme comes as a result of concerns about the quality of advocacy in the criminal courts highlighted in a report by Lord Carter in 2006.
It has been devised by The Bar Standards Board, The Socials Regulation Authority (SRA) and the ILEX Professional Standards (IPS).
The Bar Standards Board says:
“The Scheme will systematically assess and assure the quality of criminal advocacy in the courts in England and Wales and will ensure that the performance of all advocates is measured against the same set of standards, regardless of an advocate’s previous education and training.”
Barristers, Solicitors or legal executives will now need to seek accreditation in order to conduct criminal advocacy to one of four levels. The level attained will determine the type of case that lawyer is allowed to handle.
Antony Townsend, Chief Executive of the SRA said:
“As a public interest regulator, the SRA is committed to ensuring the quality and integrity of legal services.
“QASA, by establishing a set of common standards for the competence of criminal advocates, will mean that the public can have confidence in the standard of advocacy they receive.”
The scheme is currently in its first Phase and will only be introduced for barristers on the Midlands and Western Circuits initially. The scheme will then be rolled out in two more phases to cover further circuits by October 2014.
The scheme has been criticised by the Criminal Bar Association who are challenging it by way of judicial review.