Practice and Procedure

Solicitors must 'wake up and smell coffee' over advocacy scheme

PUBLISHED May 23, 2012

Thursday 24 May 2012

All solicitors will need to sign up to the quality assurance scheme for advocates (QASA) to ensure their practices are not restricted, a leading solicitor-advocate warned this week as the Solicitors Regulation Authority approved the timetable for the controversial accreditation scheme.

According to the timetable, solicitors intending to practise advocacy in criminal courts will have from 2 July to 21 September to inform the SRA if they intend to seek QASA accreditation. They will also need to indicate the level at which they intend to join the scheme and the circuit on which they undertake most of their criminal advocacy work.

The QASA (Crime) Notification Regulations 2012 are scheduled to come into force from 2 July, subject to approval by the Legal Services Board. The scheme, designed by the three main legal regulators, provides a single route through which solicitors, barristers and legal executives carrying out publicly funded criminal advocacy will be assessed through a common set of standards at four levels of competency.

Many solicitor-advocates are unhappy with QASA, which they say is weighted in favour of barristers who see it as a means of protecting themselves from competition from solicitor-advocates.

Ian Kelcey (pictured), senior partner at Bristol firm Kelcey & Hall, told the Gazette that the scheme will not only affect criminal solicitors, but all practitioners who may appear in the criminal courts. 'The whole profession needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Potentially, everyone who might practise criminal law at any time in the future is going to have to notify the SRA,' he said.

He alleged that QASA 'dilutes the qualification of solicitor' and will restrict the work solicitors will be able to do without SRA approval.

Meanwhile, Yvonne Spencer, chair of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, accused the SRA of failing to adequately publicise information about the registration requirements to magistrates' courts advocates.

Kelcey said the scheme will be particularly restrictive for those looking to transfer specialisms or who occasionally appear in the criminal courts for corporate or commercial clients.

While criminal solicitors are aware of the issue, the rest of the profession may be 'hit by the brick wall' and may be unaware of the restrictions that QASA will put on their practice, he suggested.

Kelcey said: 'If it is suggested that the standard of advocacy is so appalling, the SRA should be looking at improving the training given to advocates.' But he added: 'I don't see a diminution in advocacy standards, despite the diminution in fees.'

The SRA said that its plans for QASA had been jointly agreed by all three regulators following three consultations and detailed discussions with the judiciary. 'The detail of these plans will be the subject of a final consultation, which will be launched in July,' it added.