A controversial new scheme, designed to assess the quality of advocates appearing in criminal courts in England and Wales is being rolled out in two of the six legal circuits, Midlands and Western.

Lawyers wishing to perform advocacy in the criminal courts in theses circuits have been given six months to register.Under the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) lawyers will have to seek accreditation at one of four levels depending on the type of work they are undertaking – ranging from magistrates’ courts to the most complex cases in the crown courts.  Judges will assess the performance of advocates after a trial.  Once a lawyer has been assessed in two consecutive trials the reports will be passed to the QASA regulator who will decide whether to award accreditation.  Certain accreditation is also available via Assessment Centres. It will be a breach of the rules to conduct criminal advocacy without QASA accreditation.

The new rules have been designed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS).  Some lawyers are against the scheme which is being challenged by the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) through a judicial review. It is concerned that lawyers could receive accreditation without having conducted trials at an appropriate level.  It is also worried that defendants may be unaware that the judge is assessing their barrister in their trial or had previously assessed their barrister and found fault.

News of the roll-out was announced in a SRA press release.  BBC News has reported on the introduction of the new scheme here.  Further information is available on the QASA website and handbook.

QASA is intended to ensure that people receive  a quality standard of criminal advocacy,” said James Burgoyne, Director, Brunel Professional Risks.  “It seems that the CBA is concerned whether the schemes as it is currently structured will achieve this ideal.”