BSB questions Govt’s barrister grading plan

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has voiced major doubts over the Government’s plans for a quality assurance scheme for publicly funded defence work.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Legal Services Commission (LSC), as part of the Carter reforms into legal aid, put out a consultation paper in June proposing that criminal defence advocates should be graded in four levels according to their skills.

If the proposal went ahead, barristers would have to collect evidence of their competence. This would then be evaluated by chambers or an independent panel, with an overarching national panel ensuring consistency across the profession.

The BSB is concerned, however, that such a grading scheme will adversely affect diversity across the bar.

It is also worried whether the status of the quality assurance scheme will only be advisory opposed to mandatory and whether there should be sanctions against barristers and advocates who take work above their grade.

The BSB, in its response to the MoJ and LSC consultation that was drawn up last week, also argued that any scheme should also cover youth and adult magistrates’ courts work and not just the Crown Court, as currently proposed.

Ruth Evans, the BSB’s chair, said that the BSB was committed to assuring quality at the bar, but to take part in the proposed scheme it would need to be satisfied that the standards were consistent with its own.

“It’s not clear either from the consultation paper what monitoring would involve,” explained Evans. “This and the fact that a potentially costly scheme might be designed to benefit only one purchaser, gives us further cause for concern.”