BLS has already received several comments about the proposed Quality Assurance Scheme For Advocates and has already published an article from Ian Kelcey, a Bristol representative of the Law Society Council, and we have now been asked to publish an open letter to all practitioners from Richard Atkinson, Chair of the Criminal Law Committee. As you will see, he is urging all Practitioners – not just Crime Practitioners – to respond to the QASA consultation.
You may be wondering why I am writing to you concerning an issue that at first appears to only have relevance to criminal practitioners. The reason is that in fact this will have very significant implications for non-criminal practitioners and their ability to exercise rights that they have gained by virtue of their qualification.
The proposed Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) is due to come into effect in the course of next year. Under the proposals any solicitor proposing to appear as an advocate in any criminal matter will need to register and (in the Crown Court and above) be assessed according to their level of competence to undertake particular types of trial or (for those appearing in the magistrates’ courts only) undertake assessed CPD to demonstrate their competence.
The SRA are presently requiring those currently exercising rights of audience in criminal matters or intending to do so to notify them. Registration will then be required in the course of 2013. While it is likely that there will be facilities for people who do not register and then currently decide to move to criminal work to register after that date, the fact is that any solicitor who does not register under the scheme will not be able to practise advocacy in the criminal courts.
You may think that this is of little relevance to your members and colleagues, but I believe that it is of great significance as this amounts to a removal of our qualification rights. What we were once allowed to do by virtue of being a solicitor of the superior courts subject to our own evaluation of our competence, we will no longer be able to. Our qualification as a solicitor will have lost value and this appears to be the start of a process which could be rolled out across all areas of practice so that in due course we may find that although a solicitor we are only qualified to act in the area of law which we currently practice.
How then are solicitors to be differentiated from say legal executives? Save of course it is a lot cheaper to qualify as a legal executive. What will be the attraction of employing solicitors? This is a fundamental attack on our profession and we must act now to oppose it.
At the present time the SRA are undertaking a further consultation on the QASA scheme, this closes on 9th October 2012. If the whole, or a significant proportion, of the profession responds indicating an objection to the removal of qualification rights this will send out a strong message to the SRA that we not want our professional position undermined and that the brand of Solicitor with all that that means upon qualification is important. Please therefore circulate this information and encourage as many of your colleagues as possible to respond to the consultation. If anyone wishes to discuss this further I would be happy to speak with them.
Chair Criminal Law Committee
Law Society of England & Wales
Robin Murray & Co
Telephone 01634 832332
Mobile 07801 697754