09 April 2013

The CBA misunderstand and are misrepresenting QASA warns the BSB

Yesterday's Criminal Bar Association message contains some unhelpful inaccuracies which the Bar Standards Board needs to correct.

"Plea only" advocates and QASA

The BSB is well aware that the issue of inclusion of "Plea Only" advocates is seen by some as controversial.  The Board has collectively decided, after much debate of a range of viewpoints, that it would be in the public interest to include this category of advocates in QASA. They have practised without significant challenge from the Bar or judiciary and no assessment for many years.  The only way to get evidence on whether this is a practice that meets the needs of the public is to include all advocates in the Scheme. Further, including them in QASA means that all advocates, whatever their pattern of practice, will be the subject of quality assurance, where previously there has been none.

It's important to remember that POAs will be assessed as competent against all of the advocacy standards, including those that are focussed on trial advocacy before they can be QASA accredited.

A review of the Scheme is of course scheduled for two years after implementation.

While the matter has been carefully debated by the Board and the feedback from various consultations considered, the Board's decision on this matter is final.

See here for previous announcements on QASA


Procure Co

The Criminal Bar Association have misunderstood the difference between Procure Co and the BSB's entity regulation proposals.

The Chair of the BSB made reference in her last monthly message to the profession to the way in which the BSB was seeking to assist the Bar, through a new regulatory framework which, if adopted by practitioners, will enable them to organise along a different business model and bid for contracts. This is not Procure Co: it is entity regulation, which relates to expanding the range of business structures available to the Bar. Whilst many barristers will choose to continue under the traditional self-employed referral model, others may wish to form firms such as "barrister-only entities" or companies.

The entity regulation proposals - alongside the recent changes made by the BSB to public access rules  - are designed to help the Bar work more flexibly and competitively and to help barristers meet new pressures in the legal services market. It will enable Chambers, should they wish, to establish themselves in a form that enables them to contract with organisations such as the Legal Aid Agency.

Competitive tendering

Finally, it is not the purpose of QASA to pave the way for competitive tendering and case fees. Its purpose is to protect the public against a possible decline in standards irrespective of how the government procures services.

While the BSB would have introduced QASA irrespective of the Government's funding initiatives or timetable, what is clear, and as the CBA recognises, quality will form part of the decision making process when the Legal Aid Agency considers applications for criminal contracts. If the Bar chooses not to engage with QASA it is highly likely that the Government will bring in its own quality assurance regime for the purposes of contracting- without the consultation and debate the BSB has engaged in over the last three years. Stopping QASA will not therefore prevent competitive tendering.

Rather than facilitating price competitive tendering the Scheme will provide an opportunity for the Bar to differentiate itself within a marketplace where competition is, and will continue to be, strong. In other words, if price competitive tendering is introduced, the Bar would be better placed to secure contracts if they have engaged with QASA and demonstrated the high quality service that barristers can offer.

Today marks the launch of the Ministry of Justice consultation. It will be the first time we have seen details of their proposals because we are not part of Government. The Bar Standards Board will respond in the public interest.