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What has happened to QASA?

3 April 2012

After the public spat between the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) at the beginning of the month, peace seems to have broken out with the announcement on 23 March of agreement between the regulators on the joint Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocacy (QASA).

The key issue in the dispute was the inclusion of non trial advocates in the scheme which the BSB opposed while the chief executive of the SRA maintained: 'Our position is that it is in the public interest that all advocates who can demonstrate their competence against all of the standards are able to gain their QASA accreditation'. On this issue the SRA appears to have won the argument.

Those advocates whose practice does not include trial work at levels 2 and 3 will enter the scheme via an approved assessment organisation where their competence will be assessed against all of the QASA standards. This will allow these advocates to appear in non-trial hearings at level 1 (magistrates' court), 2 and 3 (Crown Court). All advocates who demonstrate their competence to enter the scheme will be accredited for five years. During the first two years of the scheme data will be gathered to enable a decision to then be made on whether or not to continue these arrangements for non trial advocates.

It is still difficult to be confident about the final shape of QASA. However, the bare outline of the scheme is:

  • a common set of standards will apply to all advocates regardless of their route to qualification
  • there are four levels in the scheme mapped to the complexity of work ranging from cases in the magistrates' courts at level one to the most complex cases in the Crown Court at level four
  • a set of standards and performance indicators have been provided for each of the four levels in the scheme
  • advocates will choose to progress through the levels or to remain at a level in which case they will be required to be reaccredited every five years
  • a solicitor will have attained level one on qualification, but will need to be reaccredited after five years by assessed advocacy CPD unless the solicitor has progressed to level two
  • advocates will initially self assess where on the scheme they are competent and then be required to prove their competence at that level
  • the advocate seeking progression by judicial evaluation will be required to obtain three positive pieces of judicial evaluation over a period of 12 months
  • on receipt of the advocate's application, the regulator will grant the advocate provisional accreditation at the higher level
  • once provisionally accredited the advocate must be assessed in their first two cases at the new level and evaluated against the standards for the higher level
  • on submitting the completed evaluations the advocate will either become fully accredited at the new level or will revert to their previous level.

The Law Society has been pressing hard for QASA to be flexible and to accommodate the range of work undertaken in the courts by solicitor advocates. It has ensured that the allocation of cases against the four levels reflects current practice in the courts - notably that advocacy in the Youth Courts should be level 1 and not level 2 which would have been equivalent to a requirement to hold higher rights of audience. Inevitably the Society has been reflecting the opposition of the profession to judicial evaluation as the principal route to accreditation at the higher levels.

Members of the Advocacy Section will be kept abreast of future developments in relation to QASA and how the scheme will impact upon them.

Steven Durno is policy officer for the administration of justice at the Law Society.

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