SRA approves new Qualified Assurance Scheme for Criminal Advocates
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has approved proposals for a radical overhaul of quality standards for criminal advocates.
The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (Criminal) has been developed jointly by the SRA, Bar Standards Board, and ILEX Professional Standards (through the Joint Advocacy Group) and is based on Lord Carter’s 2006 report calling for a ‘client-driven need for the quality assurance of advocacy’ as a vital part of an effective justice system.
In approving the Scheme the SRA sought assurances on preparations for judicial training, the costs of the scheme, and the need to ensure that advocates acting in cases before judges involved in their evaluation were not faced with any apparent conflict interests.
The proposals will be submitted to the Legal Services Board for initial approval in July, once they have been approved by the other bodies with a view to the scheme being introduced in phases from January 2012. It will be considered by the Bar Standards Board on 16 June and ILEX Professional Standards will be considering the necessary Rule changes at their meeting in July.
SRA chief executive, Antony Townsend said:
“Currently those who undertake advocacy in the criminal courts may have qualified through different routes with varying methods of education, training and assessment.
“While this system may have worked in the past, lawyers, clients, the public and the judiciary, need to be satisfied that advocates appearing in the criminal courts are operating to consistent standards. The changing face of the legal landscape, coupled with competition and commercial issues are all creating pressures which mean that we need to take a more proactive approach – both in the public interest and for consumer protection – to ensure that advocates are competent and able to perform well.
JAG is intending to pilot aspects of the scheme at two court centres, in Canterbury and Durham in May and June, to test its effectiveness for criminal advocates in a range of cases at different levels and to see the extent to which the training programme has prepared the judges to conduct the evaluation.
The number of advocates affected by the scheme within each of the three regulators ranges from a small number of IPS advocates at level 1 to thousands of higher rights solicitors and barristers seeking to practise at levels 3 and 4.
The proposals relate only to the application of the scheme to criminal advocacy although it provides a model which could be used in other areas of advocacy if required.