In the Media

Move to reaccredit solicitors a 'kick in the teeth'

PUBLISHED June 6, 2006

The Law Society Regulation Board came under fire this week for pushing ahead with controversial plans to reaccredit criminal defence solicitors ? a move practitioners condemned as a ?kick in the teeth?.

The Law Society?s representative arm also expressed concerns, calling for the board to consider ?at the very least? the timing in light of the Carter review of legal aid.

The board resolved last week to proceed with reaccreditation, regardless of whether the Legal Services Commission (LSC) continues to support the scheme.

It was introduced in 2001 and the LSC requires duty solicitors to be accredited. It is not clear whether this will continue post-Carter and the board was told that without LSC support, it is unlikely that many will apply for reaccreditation.

However, Lord Carter has said that, in future, quality should be overseen by professional bodies rather than the LSC.

Board chairman Peter Williamson said it would be a test of knowledge, not a full assessment: ?It is five years since the scheme was introduced and still 86% of members have not had their skills formally assessed [because they were passported in]. This is a publicly funded area of law where the needs of vulnerable clients have to be foremost.

?We realise there are a number of uncertainties for practitioners and there is unlikely to be a good time to introduce assessment. The timetable for this light-touch approach to reaccreditation will be set in the light of Lord Carter?s final report and discussions with the LSC.?

Law Society President Kevin Martin called on the board ?to take full account of the major changes that are on the horizon?.

He said: ?Major reforms expected to emerge from the Carter review, including a new quality assurance regime, point to the need, at the very least, for great care in the timing of the introduction of reaccreditation. The Law Society will be fully involved in discussions about this with the Regulation Board and LSC.?

Criminal Law Solicitors Association chairman Ian Kelcey said that with Carter still to report, ?it is just plain silly to contemplate risking the scheme?s credibility by putting the regulator on a collision course with the profession?. The case for reaccreditation ?has not been established?, he insisted.

Robert Brown, executive officer of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association, called the scheme unnecessary, too expensive, and ?a kick in the teeth?. Criminal defence has moved on since 2001, he explained, and now solicitors are specialists, not dabblers.

The association has said increasing the training requirement in the legal aid contract is the best way to ensure practitioners are up to date.