Monday, July 04, 2005

Reaccreditation... What A Cheek!

In order to become a Duty Solicitor you have to jump through many hoops and pass many tests. First of all you have to struggle through a degree for three years, then there is the Legal Practice Course for another year. Once you have got your academic qualifications you need to get a training contract for two years. If you get through your training contract you will qualify as a solicitor, and then you need 12 months experience before you can apply to be a Duty Solicitor. Then you have to pass the Police Station Qualification and Magistrates Court Qualification before you can become a fully qualified Duty Solicitor.

The Law Society does not call Duty Solicitors Duty Solicitors, they call them panel members to the Criminal Litigation Accreditation Scheme (CLAS). I think at one time the CLAS was going to be called the Criminal Litigation Accreditation Panel, but that would have spelt CLAP, and it would not go down well with solicitors saying that they have CLAP membership.

I have already been down this long journey and regularly end up at the Police Station and Magistrates Court dealing with cases as a Duty Solicitor.

When the Law Society dreamt up this idea of CLAS panel members it was changing the current system that had been in place for many years. Previously to become a duty solicitor you had to be a solicitor and then pass an interview at one of the local duty solicitor panels, if you passed the interview that was it you were in. Once you had passed the interview no one could take away your title of duty solicitor.

Now in 2001 the Law Society came up with the CLAS system. When it was introduced the Law Society said that in the future they will require CLAS panel members to go through some form of reaccreditation. The Law Society then came up with the idea that CLAS panel members could obtain stage 1 membership or stage 2 membership. To date the Law Society has not yet decided what stage 2 membership is and not one individual is a stage 2 member.

Why have I explained all of this? Well, it is because the Law Society has now decided that it is going to sort out how to reaccredit all of the CLAS panel members, and it is seeking views from the legal profession. The Law Society has issued a consultation paper. The Law Society is not seeking views on whether reaccreditation is necessary, no, it is seeking views on how to implement a system of reaccreditation.

This consultation paper is going to get a massive backlash from duty solicitors. The body in charge of legal aid payments, the Legal Services Commission, has never asked for duty solicitors to be reassessed, and apparently they are not pushing for reaccreditation. There are duty solicitors who passed their local duty solicitor interview several decades ago who will not be happy about reaccreditation. Personally I do not think that reaccreditation would be a problem for me as I had to go through the original accreditation system and I keep myself updated on law and procedural changes in criminal law anyway. Why will there be a backlash? Because the Law Society will make a lot of money from this process by charging solicitors upwards of £200 to obtain a new certificate to say that they are a CLAS member for another 5 years. That £200 would be for doing nothing but issuing a certificate. The training bodies that would be doing the reaccreditation assessments would collect hundreds of pounds for each solicitor undertaking the assessment course. So whilst the Law Society and training bodies collect money from us duty solicitors what do we get in return? A piece of bloody paper that has a new expiry date stamped on it!

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