The controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) reaches another milestone on its decidedly bumpy path as the Criminal Bar takes its challenge to the Appeal Court.
The appeal will seek to overturn the High Court’s dismissal of the Bar’s plea for a judicial review of the LSB’s decision to press ahead with implementing the scheme, which puts in place a series of competency standards for all criminal advocates – both barristers and solicitor Higher Court Advocates (HCA).
As the Law Gazette reports, the challenge – led by Dinah Rose QC, acting pro bono on behalf of the Criminal Bar – will not question the desirability of a competency scheme, but rather whether the regulators had ‘properly understood and fulfilled their statutory duties when they designed [QASA], and whether it is lawful and appropriate.”
Central to the challenge is the need to preserve the public’s confidence that the bar is fully independent – including wholly independent of the impulse or need to please or mollify a judge. With QASA’s chief assessment tool being judicial evaluation of advocacy performances in court, it is felt in some quarters that the client may believe counsel to be ‘pulling their punches, so as not to annoy the judge by whom they are being assessed.”
The case will be heard by the Court of Appeal over the next few days, and barristers and solicitors alike will wait with interest to see the outcome. In the meantime, there is little debate as to the usefulness of a scheme which will ensure the public has access to the highest standards of advocacy – only the means by which this should be achieved.
And it’s interesting to note that the current criteria for QASA evaluation goes beyond the skills of an advocate on their feet, but looks also at the competence of elements of case preparation. Whether or not QASA will be part of the regulatory framework a year hence is perhaps uncertain, but what remains certain is that advocates must pay acute attention to every element of case preparation, not least the scrutiny of evidence for relevant information and the timely disclosure of documents.
It is here that the advocates and instructing solicitors should ensure they seek the services of professional litigation support partners such as Legastat. If kingdoms are lost for want of a nail, there’s no doubt many a case has been lost for want of proper preparation – a risk no advocate can afford to take, QASA or not.