Proposals for a radical overhaul of quality standards for criminal advocates have been approved by the SRA Board
The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (Criminal) has been developed by the Joint Advocacy Group (JAG), comprising the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Bar Standards Board, and IPS (ILEX Professional Standards). The review is based on Lord Carter's 2006 report calling for a 'client-driven need for the quality assurance of advocacy' as a vital part of an effective justice system.
The SRA Board welcomed the proposed scheme. In approving it, it sought assurances on preparations for judicial training, the costs of the scheme, and the need to ensure that advocates acting in cases before judges involved in their evaluation were not faced with any apparent conflict interests.
Jo Cooper comments:
Well the first thing to note is that according to the SRA website, the SRA Board Meeting on 1 June 2011 DID agree to seek assurances from the Joint Advocacy Group on a range of issues including preparations for judicial training, the costs of the scheme, and the need to ensure that advocates acting in cases before judges involved in their evaluation were not faced with any apparent conflict interests.
Nevertheless SAHCA believes the problems in the scheme go deeper and would have hoped that the SRA would take a more active stance on the points raised by Mark Humphries and others, not least because they are echoed by our members on a daily basis.
The problems with the scheme as it currently stands are:
1. There has been no attempt by any of the regulators to obtain empirical evidence about advocacy standards, so there is no evidence of particular advocacy weaknesses that can be targeted by matching regulatory interventions. That means that on the basis of anecdote and supposition the regulators are preparing to throw a blanket of expensive regulation over the lot of us, whether good, bad or excellent. Incidentally, much of the anecdote related to CPS advocacy, and this is likely to be transformed by actions the CPS are already taking to quality control its own internal and external advocacy arrangements.
2. Judicial assessment is not seen by our members as the simple and even-handed answer that the Bar and Senior Judiciary profess it to be. There are issues about fairness and discrimination - these are centrally important if you are a solicitor or a part-timer (or part of a one-stop shop involving both litigation and advocacy) or anyone else who does not fit the apparent paradigm of independent practice at the Bar. There are also issues about the type of advocacy profession the scheme will foster if assertive advocacy involves a career decision that meek advocacy does not.
3. There is no plan for a pilot scheme, or any sort of impact assessment. It is astonishing that given the objections raised by ourselves and others any regulator could propose introducing a scheme without seeing it in practice or thinking through the potential damage it could cause to individual practitioners, to diversity more generally, and to the market as a whole.
However, to put this in perspective, it is ultimately for the Legal Services Board rather than the front-line regulators to sign off the scheme.The LSB are due to consider this at their July meeting.
- SRA will work within the Joint Advocacy Group over the next month to insist on meaningful changes to the scheme. We shall follow the outcome of this with interest.
- the LSB will bear all these points in mind when asked to authorise what the SRA, the Senior Judiciary and the Bar would impose on the advocacy market.