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12 July 2012
Law Society fights for level platform between solicitors and barristers in advocates assessment
Requirements for advocates facing assessment under the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates scheme (QASA) should be uniform for solicitors and barristers, the Law Society has warned.
Responding today to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) consultation on QASA, Law Society Chief Executive Desmond Hudson said the Society remains committed to supporting a proportionate scheme to assess advocacy, but insisted that the scheme must be fair to all members in order to be credible:
“The existing consultation on the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates is welcome and we are pleased that the SRA and BSB have listened to the Society's comments and made significant improvements to the original proposals in respect of levels 2 to 4. However, we remain concerned that there is not sufficient detail about the arrangements for level 1”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is asking practitioners to 'notify' them if they presently conduct advocacy in the magistrates' or Crown Court, or intend to do so in the future. The SRA is proposing that, for the first five years of a solicitor's practising life following qualification, they will be entitled to conduct advocacy work in the magistrates' court. Thereafter, he or she will have to pass the Level 1 Standard that is to be set.
Desmond Hudson said: “The effect of the proposals will be that the bulk of the solicitors profession will lose the right to appear in criminal matters in the magistrates courts. This rationale is questionable. Solicitors are under a duty to act only where they are competent and there is little reliable evidence to suggest that they are not following this rule. We are also concerned that the proposals are unlikely to reflect the realities of practice for many solicitors who appear in the magistrates courts.”
“We are concerned, also, that the BSB has not joined the SRA in requiring advocates to register for the scheme. If the scheme is to have credibility it must be applied equivalently across all regulators and both professions. If the BSB is already being inconsistent at this stage it bodes ill for the future.
“Furthermore, we reiterate our concern that judicial assessment is an inappropriate tool because it will place a further tension on an advocate's duties to the client since there will be a conflict between their interests in receiving a good mark from a judge and their clients' interests in being fearlessly and robustly represented in court.”