The Court of Appeal has today rejected a challenge to the lawfulness of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA).
Giving the judgment of the court in K. Lumsdon, R. Taylor, D. Howker QC and C. Hewertson v Legal Services Board, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said: “It is clear that this is a controversial scheme on which opinions are sharply divided. It is no part of the court’s function to express any view about the merits of the scheme. We can only interfere with the decision if it is unlawful.
“Those who oppose the scheme can at least take some comfort from the fact that the approved regulators intend to review it after two years. That is an important safeguard.”
The High Court had previously dismissed the challenge to QASA in January 2014.
Rejecting all grounds put forward by the appellants, the Court of Appeal found that:
- The scheme was not unlawful according to domestic law;
- QASA did not interfere with the independence of the advocate or the judiciary; and
- The Legal Services Board addressed the issue of proportionality and was entitled to conclude that QASA was proportionate.
Chairman of the Legal Services Board, Sir Mike Pitt, said: "I am pleased that the Court of Appeal has comprehensively supported the High Court's judgment, which itself confirmed that the LSB followed the proper processes and that the work of the BSB, SRA and IPS in developing the QASA scheme was valid.
“We will continue our drive to raise standards in the legal sector. Advocates, given their vital role in the justice system, should expect to have the competence of their work assessed - and be seen to be assessed - in the interests of improving the quality of legal services."
The Joint Advocacy Group – comprising the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and ILEX Professional Standards, and responsible for introducing QASA – welcomed the ruling.
A spokesperson said: “We welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal to dismiss the appeal of the outcome of the judicial review of QASA and we look forward to working constructively with the profession to implement the new scheme. We will be reviewing the judgment closely and will carefully consider each regulator’s next steps in terms of the scheme.”
The BSB’s Director-General, Dr Vanessa Davies, said: “QASA has always been about protecting the public from the minority of advocates who are not as good as they should be. In the words of the Master of the Rolls, ‘the whole point of an assessment scheme is to weed out incompetent practitioners.’ No profession in the public sphere is immune from quality assurance and it is paramount that victims, witnesses and defendants can expect the same standards of competence from all advocates working in the criminal courts.
“We acknowledge the concerns about the scheme that have been put forward during the JR but the Court has made very clear that these concerns are unfounded and that the scheme has appropriate safeguards, not least a comprehensive review after two years of operation. The BSB will of course act quickly to clarify its appeals policy taking full account of what is said in the judgment.”
SRA Chief Executive Paul Philip said: “We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has upheld the scheme and we can now move ahead with implementation. QASA is key to providing us with a means of ensuring that standards of criminal advocacy are upheld.
“We now need to consider the judgment carefully and identify next steps. We will issue information about a revised timetable for registration shortly.”
The judgment can be viewed here.