You win some…

If a cat may look at a king, then maybe a criminal hack may risk a view on the prospects of appeal. Having poured over the tactful, thorough, clear and moderate QASA judgment, I would be gloomy over any prospects of outright success. Reading the runes, this scheme or something very like it is on its way. It will be a bonus if the BSB agree a common circuits starting date, as I strongly urge them to do. That will go some way to easing the pain, but of course it will not end it.

So time for plain speaking.

If a common starting date is delayed until December, I have little doubt that reality will catch up and the bar begin to accept that it is quite pointless to oppose regulation when we have no alternative scheme on offer and that if we don’t join, we cannot practise. It is as simple and terrible as that.

It is worth reading the balanced and sane speech recently of the Attorney General at the launch of the BSB handbook. He recognized the danger of over regulation or micro management of the professions. But there must be proper regulation of the bar. The key passage is –

” For a profession like ours which prides itself on quality, to refuse to be assessed does not strengthen our cause, and indeed is in my view completely counter-productive.”

He is absolutely right. Our failure to develop our own scheme is serious and frankly, indefensible. I have been banging on about the subject for over a year.

So QASA is the only current option.

In that position, of course I shall join it. So with a heavy heart will many other criminal practitioners. We will have no choice.

We can take a small crumb of comfort in the promised review in two years and we can continue to develop a better alternative. Why no one has run seriously with my own suggestion of a College of Advocacy for lifetime excellence saddens me, because that would be a million times better than what is on offer.

In my blog in September 2013 I set out the principle and it’s possible implementation…

‘ A College of Advocacy set up to replicate the advocacy training of the Inns for the life long regulation of all professional advocates.

Mandatory refresher courses for all professional advocates every three years

The trainers should be recruited from the best of the current Inn and Circuit and professional association trainers.

Here is how it might be created

1. A conference chaired by Lord Judge with the Chairman of the Bar, the President of the Law Society, representatives of each Inn, Circuit and Professional association to adopt the principle and consider the financial implications.

2. The establishing of an Advocacy Board with a tight administrative supporting structure

3. Trainers appointed and Training venues to be agreed

4. The very practical refresher courses to be a professional obligation – non attendance carrying ultimately the certainty of suspension.

5. Successful completion of the course would result in an advocacy kite mark. That means the course would be partly competitive.’

I suggest that others who have grasped the present weakness of the Bar’s position, with no viable regulatory alternative on the table, should continue to support this alternative, which could harness the combined skills of our best trainers, in the Inns and on Circuit.

But QASA is a secondary question of supreme unimportance to The Lord Chancellor. How are we doing on fighting the cuts?

It is a little difficult to know if you are not involved in the day-to-day negotiating. But I note the latest efforts of the Ministry of Justice to set out their justification, which is a more determined effort to set the cuts in context. Or put another way, a sort of advocacy which may quell dissent outside the profession itself. I remain of the view that the Leaders should continue to isolate key injustices as part of a negotiating strategy as well as costing and publicising our own suggested savings.

But we can recognise with gratitude the resolution and clarity of our new Chairman, as well as the outstanding civil practitioners who fought the QASA fight pro bono. From all of us, thank you.

Nigel Pascoe QC

PS I cannot be at the rally on Saturday. The reason is personal and incidentally a very happy one. But insofar as the meeting continues to raise the public awareness of the increasing risks of injustice, then I hope it is an outstanding success. It strikes me as far more fruitful than risking our reputations by more direct action. The bar in full flood articulating the greater good is utterly admirable. The same cannot be said for letting our clients down for the day or more.

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