Practice and Procedure

Criminal bar in dock for solicitor-advocate ?turf war?

PUBLISHED December 15, 2011

The criminal bar stands accused of using the planned quality assurance scheme to wage a ?turf war? on solicitor-advocates, following the circulation of a letter calling on barristers to engage with the scheme.

In the letter, sent to all members of the Criminal Bar Association, executive committee member Ian West told members on the north-eastern circuit last month that the controversial Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) would help barristers win back work from solicitor-advocates.

Although the bar wants the accreditation scheme to protect the public, he said: ?We make no apology for saying that we also want to win back the position we have traditionally held of doing the most serious cases in the Crown court, and a QASA scheme will help to achieve that.?

In the letter, West said that as a referral profession, barristers are at a disadvantage compared with solicitors. ?A QASA scheme which requires advocates - barristers and solicitors - not to undertake work beyond their level of accreditation, will make serious inroads into this competitive disadvantage.?

He added that the scheme ?should enable us to win back a significant tranche of work that has, in recent years, been lost to solicitor-advocates who are presently doing cases for no better reason than that the lay client came to them first.?

Yvonne Spencer, chair of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates (SAHCA) described the letter as ?highly unfortunate? It unveils the reality behind the criminal bar?s attempt to use QASA as a vehicle for fighting a turf war with solicitor-advocates.?

She said members of the bar should instead concentrate on components of the scheme which, as drafted, could exclude many members from conducting advocacy at the top two of four levels of accreditation. ?This is where the bar should be focusing its attention. There are no regulatory barriers preventing barristers from competing on an equal playing field with solicitor-advocates,? she said.

Elsewhere in the letter, West said that if three ?bottom-line, non-negotiable? elements are not part of the QASA, the CBA will recommend that barristers do not sign up to it. Those elements are: a level playing field for all advocates; judicial evaluation; and case grading, rather than hearing grading.

The CBA?s chair, Max Hill QC, said that without those three principles, QASA cannot serve the public interest. ?Our primary concern remains the maintenance and promotion of high-quality advocacy, which means that the most serious cases should go to the most capable and qualified individuals,? he said.