The success – or otherwise – of striking criminal barristers' campaign to prevent the dismantling of their profession will ultimately be decided by whether or not they can get the public onside...
As attorney general Dominic Grieve indicated to Legal Cheek last month, the government doesn't think the Bar will be able to pull this off: "The criminal Bar would find itself in a very difficult position if it were to be seen to be resisting this move, because I don't think that it is likely to have public opinion on its side in the arguments it is putting forward," he said.
But others reckon that there may be more sympathy out there for criminal barristers than the likes of Grieve are estimating – especially if a clear message can be articulated about the dangers of handing the keys of the criminal justice system to companies such as G4S.
Ominously for criminal barristers, though, even on their big day of boycott of the northern courts, the government seems to be winning the PR war...
It hasn't helped that the official Twitter account for the boycott meeting – @NotopctNorthern – is locked, meaning its messages can't be retweeted.
It's a shame, because the meeting seems to have been a big hit, hauling in 450+ lawyers to the Radisson hotel in Manchester (see photo below). I guess we'll get to read about how it went later...
Just when you thought that the Bar Standards Board (BSB) had run out of embarrassing gaffes to make (see, for example, here, here and here), it has made another embarrassing gaffe...
Recipients of the latest BSB "Chair's Update" were surprised to find the email addresses of 1,268 of their fellow barristers appear alongside Baroness Ruth Deech's words extolling the virtues of the Quality Assurance Scheme For Advocates (QASA).
As you can see from the redacted screenshot below of just a tiny fraction of the email addresses, it seems that someone – who knows, maybe even the Baroness herself? – elected to Cc, rather than Bcc, in the recipients to the update.
A BSB spokesperson said: "We immediately contacted those affected to apologise and we are taking all appropriate steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again."
In other BSB news, the body has still not provided a response to last month's story about mock paper questions featuring in the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) ethics exam. In a statement at the time, the BSB's head of education and training, Simon Thornton-Wood, said: "We are aware of this very serious issue and are conducting a thorough investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment further until we have completed that process."
It began with this blog post on Sunday by Fountain Court's Ian West, where he called on fellow barristers to refuse to sign up to the Quality Assurance Scheme For Advocates (QASA) – which many view as a backdoor way of handing the likes of Eddie Stobart Group and G4S the keys to the criminal justice system. Among the many (mostly discursive and non-committal) comments, one – posted yesterday afternoon – stood out: "I support this approach. I will not sign up to QASA. Andrew Vout, 1 High Pavement, Nottingham". Over the course of the evening, others followed on Twitter...
Meanwhile, this morning back in the comments section to West's blog...
We'll be keeping an eye out for more "I will not sign up to QASA" pledges as they happen. In the meantime, the Twitter hashtag to keep an eye on is #NoToQASA.
As the Quality Assurance Scheme For Advocates (QASA) consultation rumbles on, the latest concern is that the new regime could see clients wrongly advised to plead guilty – a result of the new rules allowing inexperienced advocates to appear at preliminary hearings in the Crown Court.
To an extent, this already happens. A junior advocate once boasted to me of specialising in "cracking trials" by convincing their client to accept a guilty plea. I hope reading that makes you wince; I found it rather disturbing. QASA will surely make the situation worse.
At its heart, though, QASA – which will come into force in January next year – is about the judicial assessment of advocates. This new approach is surely no bad thing for competent up-and-coming barristers and solicitor-advocates, in spite of Lord Justice Moses' expression of fear earlier this year that judicial assessment will make junior lawyers reluctant to "tell the judge to go to the devil"...
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...
The Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) is ostensibly designed to ensure that criminal advocates perform to a competent standard in court; in practice, it will add little but another layer of bureaucracy to a justice system already groaning under the paper weight of a rainforest, writes The Law Horse
But the backroom machinations are for the time being over and QASA will soon be upon us all. This week, the SRA invited all those professionals that it regulates to register for the scheme.
QASA is a political conceit. The Bar Standards Board – having gazed at the stars and identified the culprit of declining advocacy standards – is content with a scheme it believes will turn the tables on solicitor-advocates. The Law Society is satisfied, having secured a major concession in the special status granted to the oxymoronic plea-only advocates. The Criminal Bar Association is still spoiling for a fight but ultimately is unlikely to land the first blow.