The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) doesn’t impress The Law Horse. So he is proposing four alternative ways to keep barristers and solicitor-advocates in check.
Who better to assess an advocate’s skills than their client? Not a real client, obviously, they can’t be trusted. Most of them are even criminals. No, what is needed is a stooge, an actor: a mystery client.
For all intents and purposes, the actor is a genuine client. In liaison with a police handler they are arrested for a pre-agreed offence. From that point on, the system takes charge and the lawyers are called. The client – who is the one person who holds all of the facts – is perfectly positioned to assess the advocate’s skill: the conference abilities and advice giving, the bail applications and decision making, the client care, trial advocacy, management of expectations and plea in mitigation.
Only, pity the poor mystery client whose police handler loses their file...
Weekend Training Course
Imagine Band Camp, but without the sex or endearing geekery. Or a weekend at Hogwarts, but without any of the magic, intrigue or cringing sexual tension. Only a room full of recovering tea-totallers, bathing languorously in the velvet rich tones of their own voices, all willing to teach but none with a jot to learn.
Apparently such courses work well for judges, so why not advocates? The Inns of Court would do well to provide a twenty-first century service to their practicing members, rather than languishing in the staid old world of the oak panelled private members club. Lectures, seminars, and a shared learning experience, followed by good food, wine, more wine, port and sherry. Persevering through the outrageous next-day hangover: surely this is the true test of Monday morning advocacy?
A series of true to life practical examinations, far removed from the sterile simulations of the BPTC. Here are a few hastily cobbled together examples.
You have been instructed in three plea and case management hearings (PCMHs), a sentence and a ham-fisted Newton hearing which is stubbornly refusing to crack. Having missed your train after a man on the platform spilt his coffee on your shirt, you arrive at 09:55 to find that each hearing is listed first, at 10:00, in different courts.
Full marks: establish a workable order to your cases.
Bonus mark: convince the Listings Officer to swap shirts with you.
Task 2. Time: 10 minutes
In conference your client announces that he doesn’t need an advocate to represent him because his friend, Joe of the family Green, said that statue law doesn’t apply to him and that he should arrest the judge.
Full marks: convince your client to retain you as counsel.
Bonus mark: remain professionally unembarrassed as you heroically save the judge from your client (who is attempting to make an arrest) by rugby tackling him to the ground.
Task 3. Time: 3 hours
Shallowpockets, your instructing solicitor, invites you out for celebratory drinks with the partners, which of course means that you will be buying the rounds. You are yet to be paid for cases completed over a year ago, your mortgage payments are overdue and the last job you did for Shallowpockets was underpaid.
Full marks: don’t pay for a drink all evening; impress the partners.
NB. Pint glasses must be emptied every 15 minutes, at which point they shall be refilled.
If education has Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education), perhaps criminal justice should have Ofstad.
No professional likes the quangocrats interfering in their realm. No professional appreciates being declared to be ‘unsatisfactory’ by an outside observer. But Ofsted plays a vital inspectorial role and – at the risk of incurring teachers’ wrath – they generally do it well.
Unannounced visits by a team of inspectors – charged with reviewing chambers from the top to bottom; shadowing advocates for weeks at a time to assess their skills and decision making in a variety of situations – would be costly, cumbersome, and the only guarantee of a full and frank appraisal of an advocate’s abilities. HMCPSI prove that organisation-wide assessments of advocacy standards need not become a bureaucratic quagmire.
We should be proud of the quality of our legal professionals, especially considering what passes for advocacy in some other supposedly developed nations. If the profession is serious about quality assessments, as opposed to its currently preferred position of bitter political posturing, it’s time to invest in a credible scheme.
The Law Horse is an anonymous barrister at the criminal Bar of England and Wales, who tweets at @thelawhorse.