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Regulators reach deal over advocacy assurance scheme starting in summer 2012

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The Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority have patched up their differences over the structure of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates.

This means that the joint assurance scheme for criminal advocacy will begin in summer 2012, with advocates notifying the regulators – the BSB, the SRA and ILEX Professional Standards – that they will seek accreditation.

Earlier this month the BSB publicly urged the “minority advocacy regulators” to press ahead with the scheme.

But it appears that the board has conceded on the main sticking point, which was the SRA’s suggestion that plea-only advocates should be allowed to undergo assessment by assessment centre only in order to do non-trial work above which they are judicially assessed to perform.

“Live evaluation by judges for all advocates who undertake Crown Court trials will be a central element of assessment,” the three regulators said in a joint statement.

A final consultation is also to be issued. Judicial evaluation will be phased in from late 2012 and available on all circuits by late summer 2013.

The three regulators said the scheme would see ongoing monitoring, evaluation and data gathering on all aspects for two years from implementation. The scheme will then be reviewed and amended, if that proves necessary.

SRA Chief Executive Antony Townsend said: "I am delighted that we are proceeding with a joint scheme for the quality assurance of advocacy in the criminal courts. This is a vital step to ensure that all those who are reliant upon advocacy services are able to access competent advocates to undertake their work.”

According to data provided by the regulators, there are around 8,500 criminal advocates providing defence and prosecution services in the Crown Courts in England and Wales. Of these, 2,500 are solicitor advocates and 6,000 are barristers.

Another 10,000 or so solicitors, CILEx Advocates and CPS associate prosecutors provide advocacy services in the Magistrates' Courts.