Practice and Procedure

New boycott votes threaten quality assurance scheme

PUBLISHED May 10, 2013

Friday 10 May 2013 by Catherine Baksi

A decision by hundreds of barristers to boycott the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) is 'misguided', their regulator has said, warning of possible disciplinary sanctions against barristers taking such action.

Barristers on four of the seven circuits - all of the circuits that have so far voted on the issue - have passed near-unanimous motions to boycott the controversial assessment designed for all publicly funded criminal advocates.

At meetings this week the Midland and North Eastern circuits unanimously resolved not to sign up to QASA or to take work from other circuits where barristers have refused support. Their decisions follow similar resolutions by the Northern, and Wales and Chester circuits.

QASA was signed off last month by the three legal regulators who designed it. It is due to begin on September, with a phased introduction starting on the Wales and Chester circuit. Its future now appears to be in question.

A spokeswoman for the Bar Standards Board said that refusing to sign up to QASA is not a breach of the Code of Conduct but to undertake criminal advocacy without registering for QASA would be a disciplinary offence.

She said: 'The BSB understands that the circuits have voted to oppose quality appraisal as a means of expressing a view about the Ministry of Justice consultation on legal aid.'

But she said that was misguided. 'A boycott of QASA is neither in the public interest nor an appropriate means of making that case,' she said.

The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Michael Turner QC (pictured), described QASA as 'a fig leaf of respectability to pave the way for price-competitive tendering'.

He said: 'The only reason for QASA is because they [the MoJ] are removing client choice. Where there is a healthy competitive market, there is no need for a quality control system. It's the competition that keeps the market honest.'