Few regulatory changes have provoked quite such a stir as the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA). The ongoing row over the controversial programme (designed to assess all advocates against a set of standard criteria) reached fever-pitch this week as Sir Brian Leveson handed down a decision from the Queen’s Bench. After fervent arguments against the Scheme, the Criminal Bar Association’s bid to bring the Scheme under Judicial Review has failed.
Laymen may be perplexed by quite how divisive QASA has proved. Surely (they might well enquire) it is in the interests of the public? After all, if one’s liberty is in the hands of thirteen individuals of whom twelve are jury and one is advocate, should that advocate not be up to the task?
Critics of the Scheme have said it is a cumbersome and needlessly complex tick-box process, which will achieve little more than demotivating an already beleaguered Bar. Silks who have already undergone a rigorous selection process protest at finding themselves subject to an additional procedure.
The Legal Services Board has placed the public central to the scheme, saying: “Those who need access to justice have a right to expect that regulators and advocates alike, acting in the public rather than self-interest, will constantly seek to assess and improve the quality of legal services.”
That advocates must seek to provide the highest service is without doubt and, as every baby barrister and fresh-faced solicitor knows, excellence in advocacy begins not at the moment of standing up in court, but long before. Case preparation is key, and without effective litigation support an advocate’s performance is at risk before it has begun. Incomplete bundles, missed disclosure deadlines and ineffective data management can prove decidedly damaging.
In the wake of this judgment, there remains talk of the Bar boycotting the Scheme, and it will be interesting to observe how the next few months unfold. That advocates can continue to rely on litigation support partners such as Legastat to help prepare for an effective advocacy performance remains a welcome certainty.