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Regulators delay registration deadline for QASA, amend scheme

The Joint Advocacy Group has pushed back the registration deadline for the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) again, although it still intends for the process to be completed in 2014.

The revised registration timetable is as follows:

  • Midland and Western Circuit: starts on 30 September 2013, closes on 30 May 2014;
  • South Eastern Circuit: starts on 31 May 2014, closes on 3 October 2014;
  • Northern, North Eastern and Wales and Chester: starts on 4 October 2014, closes on 31 December 2014.

The move comes just days after three judges sitting in the High Court ruled that the scheme was lawful.

The JAG – which comprises the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards – said that they would also amend the scheme to incorporate the judges’ four suggested improvements.

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But the JAG said they would not agree to delay implementation of QASA until the outcome of the review into the provision of independent criminal advocacy being conducted by Sir Bill Jeffrey is known.

In a statement the group said: “The judgment makes it clear that the regulators have a duty to assure the competence of those they regulate.

“The judgment notes that the Jeffrey Review will be of relevance to this duty and to the development of QASA but there is no suggestion, explicit or otherwise, that the Scheme should be delayed pending its publication.”

The High Court had said it saw “enormous force” in the suggestion that both the development of QASA and the review should be informed by the other.

The High Court’s four recommended changes were:

  • It would be sensible for the Criminal Advocacy Evaluation Form to require the advocate to identify (a) when he or she was first instructed (which would not offend legal professional privilege) and (b) whether advice on evidence was provided: in both cases, that would inform the judge as to the background against which any assessment of competence is to be made.
  • The judge should be permitted to decline to complete the form if he or she believes, because of the circumstances, that it would not be fair to do so: in that event, the assessment would fall to be made in the next trial.
  • In the event of a third judicial assessment becoming necessary, it should be of the first trial conducted by the advocate in front of a judge other than either of the judges that conducted the first two assessments.
  • QASA went to the heart of the practice development of criminal advocates and “every step should be taken to ensure that the scheme is completely clear to all called upon to comply with it”. The judges said they had identified some areas of ambiguity in the written material during the course of the judgment.

The JAG said amendments to QASA would be made to remove this ambiguity. The group plans to reissue the scheme handbook by the end of February.

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