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Criminal advocacy quality scheme set for April 2012 launch as SLG demands clarity

The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates will be implemented in stages from April 2012, the regulators behind the initiative have announced.

The Joint Advocacy Group – comprising the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards – have set out a programme of work to meet this timetable.

“The new approach is designed to ensure that the final scheme protects the public interest across the wide variety of criminal advocacy practices, does not have any unintended consequences for those practices, and maintains momentum,” the group said.

According to the JAG, the revised approach will see:

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  • A phased roll-out of the scheme by areas, “enabling the scheme to go live from April 2012 with advocates being able to undertake accreditation from that date”
  • An exploration, working with stakeholders, of the issues raised during the current consultation. Consultation was extended by a month after the JAG admitted that “valid issues” about the scheme had been raised
  • The capacity to make any necessary changes to the scheme in the public interest, "in time to prevent any unnecessary exclusion of certain patterns of practice".

The JAG extended the consultation by a month and admitted that the scheme’s launch would be delayed after it came under fire from a range of different organisations, including the Criminal Bar Association and the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates.

Individual local government solicitors have attacked QASA, warning in particular that the scheme appeared to differentiate between barristers and solicitors handling regulatory work.

Solicitors in Local Government has also weighed in to the debate on the scheme’s impact on specialist practitioners of this kind, it has emerged.

In a statement to Local Government Lawyer, the SLG said: “Solicitors in local government prosecute a wide variety of regulatory offences including trading standards, environmental health, planning, education and fire safety.

“It is unclear to us what the SRA's position is with regard to the prosecution of these types of offences. The BSB's rules seem to restrict the definition of ‘criminal activity’ to those offences set out in the 4 levels in the Scheme. There does not seem to be the same clarity of definition within the SRA's changes.”

The SLG said it had therefore asked for clarification on:

  1. The JAG's current position on Specialist Practitioners
  2. The application of the SRA's proposed rule changes to those prosecuting regulatory offences.

The group said its initial concern “was that the changes may mean that local government solicitors who appear as advocates in court sporadically would be subjected to QASA which would perhaps give less flexibility within the workforce and impose a quality regime disproportionate to the number of court appearances”.

Philip Hoult

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