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Legal Services Commission - seeks to raise the bar for advocacy standards

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has today published a discussion paper – ‘Quality Assurance for Advocates’ - setting out proposed quality standards for publicly-funded criminal advocacy.

Urging wide participation in the discussion, Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: “As with any public service, people must have confidence in the quality of advocacy, on which they may need to rely, often at some of the most difficult times of their lives.

“The responsibility for assuring the quality of legal services should clearly sit with the legal professions’ regulators. At the same time, the Legal Services Commission – as the funder of legal aid services in England and Wales - has a central role in setting the standards that publicly-funded advocates need to meet.  This is more important than ever as the legal services market opens up to new providers delivering professional advice and representation.”

Along with many practising advocates, the LSC has long promoted the need for rigorous, independent evaluation of all advocates, regardless of professional background, to ensure a consistent, high-quality service in which both the public and the legal professions can be confident.

The proposals have been developed on the basis of extensive work and research commissioned by the LSC over the last three years.  This includes a survey of 5,260 barristers and a series of focus groups attended by 60 barristers. It also includes a research pilot by Cardiff Law School to test a framework of competences with over 100 advocates of all types.

With the publication of the paper, the LSC is handing over its lead in developing a quality assurance scheme to a Joint Advocacy Group, composed of the primary regulators of legal advocacy.  This group is   accountable to the Legal Services Board for delivery of a scheme for criminal advocacy by mid 2011.

David Edmonds, Chairman of the Legal Services Board, said:  “The need for a quality assurance scheme in criminal advocacy is irrefutable. There are concerns about variable levels of competency in advocacy, but no way of consumers knowing who to turn to for some of the most important legal advice they will ever get.  A quality assurance for advocacy scheme will address this directly.  It will also underpin the changes that are taking place in the advocacy market and ensure that competition works in the interests of the client and public.”

The discussion paper will be open to feedback to inform our final minimum requirements until 10 May 2010. Feedback is welcomed on parallel schemes for family and civil advocacy schemes which are yet to be developed.

For further information, please contact Daniel Kellingley on 020 7783 7220

Notes to editors:

  • The proposals stem from Lord Carter’s recommendation in “Legal Aid: A market-based approach to reform”, that a system of quality monitoring should be developed for all advocates carrying out legal aid work in criminal, civil and family courts. They are part of a package of legal aid reforms designed to ensure improved services for clients, better value for taxpayers and more certainty for service providers.
  • The Joint Advocacy Group (JAG) consists of the three main advocacy regulators (Solicitors Regulation Authority for solicitors, Bar Standards Board for barristers and ILEX Professional Standards for Legal Executives). The LSC, MoJ, judiciary and Crown Prosecution Service have become ‘Senior Users’ on the JAG and feed in to its work to deliver proposals for a quality assurance scheme.
  • Quality Assurance for Advocates – working with the professions to deliver a framework for better advocacy is available on the LSC website at the QAA pages
  • In the survey completed by Ipsos MORI, published in November 2007 for the Bar Standards Board 57% of barristers believed that the current system was ineffective at dealing with barristers who were not up to standard.
  • The Legal Services Commission manages the legal aid scheme in England and Wales.