Regulator scraps plan for judges to evaluate advocates

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Nov 30, 2017
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Andrew Langdon, QC, said the proposal “was not celebrated by many and its death will be mourned by fewer”

Times Photographer Jack Hill

A controversial proposal to impose enhanced advocacy quality assessments on criminal law specialists was ditched yesterday by the profession’s regulator.

The quality assurance scheme for advocates (QASA) has been dropped nearly five years after first winning approval from the Bar Standards Board.

In an embarrassing move for the Bar’s regulator, officials said the proposal was dropped after a recent review, which found that barristers should “take greater responsibility for their own learning and development by removing prescriptive regulation and creating flexibility as to how competence should be maintained”.

In a statement, the board said it had “decided that the QASA scheme would not be consistent with this new approach”.

Sir Andrew Burns, the board’s chairman, added: “Regulators must be responsive to changes in regulatory practice and be prepared to amend their approach if aims can be achieved in different and better ways.

“QASA was developed over a number of years and was approved four years ago. In the intervening period, the BSB has substantially changed its approach to regulation both as it has developed as a regulator but also in response to changes in the provision of legal services.”

The reality, however, is that the regulator was finding it almost impossible to win backing for the proposed scheme from barristers on the ground or advocates in the other branches of the legal profession in England and Wales. 

Reacting to the decision, Andrew Langdon, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, which represents 15,000 practising barristers in England and Wales, said bluntly that the proposal “was not celebrated by many and its death will be mourned by fewer”.

The controversy centered around a proposal that judges would be required to monitor and assess the quality of specific advocates, including QCs. “Many barristers were unhappy with the proposed scheme, not least because it risked placing both advocates and judges in a problematic position, given their respective roles during a trial,” Langdon said.

Joe Egan, president of the Law Society, which represents solicitor-advocates, also welcomed the scheme’s demise. “The society has consistently voiced its concerns about the scheme, particularly in respect of proportionality and the implications of judicial evaluation,” he said.

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