Children's Quality Assurance
Overview - Children's Quality Assurance
The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 introduced major changes to the way in which the hearings system operated. The Scottish Government also made substantial changes to the availability of legal aid.
The Children’s Quality Assurance Scheme is for all solicitors who are registered with SLAB to provide children’s legal assistance.
All children’s solicitors will be reviewed within a set period or cycle (currently 6 years). The Children's Quality Assurance Committee’s Children's Quality Assurance Coordinator (CHQAC) will decide which solicitors are to be reviewed, along with details of randomly selected files from each solicitor providing children’s legal assistance within the firm. These files, where possible, will consist of various legal aid types. The cost of carrying out these routine reviews will be met by SLAB.
The coordinator will allocate reviewers from the panel to carry out the review. Reviewers will not be asked to review solicitors based in their own locality. Reviewers are also obliged to disclose any reason (such as conflict of interest, involvement in a case) why they should not carry out a review of any particular solicitor or file held by a firm.
The coordinator will contact the solicitor, through the Compliance Partner of the firm, providing a list of files selected for review and details of the allocated reviewer(s).
In general, only “dead” files – that is, files for which accounts have already been submitted or paid – will be reviewed at this stage, but if any file selected for review is not available (for example, because it is needed for a court appearance or any other valid reason), then we may select substitute files in its place.
We will send appropriate packaging and will arrange to uplift your files via courier, returning them via courier as soon as is practicable once the review has been completed.
If a solicitor or firm has any concerns about the suitability of their allocated reviewer they must make representations to the co-ordinator as soon as possible. If the representations are accepted, the review will be re-allocated .
The peer reviewers will review files in accordance with the guidance, training, criteria and marking scheme approved by the CHQAC. Where more than one reviewer is involved each will work independently of the other.
A proportion of files (25%) will be “double-marked” – that is, marked by two reviewers independently; this is designed as a check on consistency and accuracy of marking.
The standard to be applied in carrying out the reviews is that of the reasonable competence to be expected of a solicitor of ordinary skills, sometime known as the Hunter v Hanley test, or the IPS (inadequate professional service) standard.
After the peer reviewer has completed the review we will put the results before the CHQAC for discussion. Where the CHQAC decides a solicitor has passed the routine review, we will tell the Compliance Partner in writing.
We will draw any issues arising from the review to the attention of the solicitor in writing, through the Compliance Partner, and give the firm the opportunity to respond and to identify what steps are needed to address matters. We will bring these concerns to the attention of the reviewer(s) at the next routine review to ensure the firm has taken those steps. Back to contents
Where the CHQAC decides that a solicitor has failed a routine review, the solicitor becomes the subject of an extended review.
We will inform the Compliance Partner of this in writing. In some cases, the extended review will be deferred to allow concerns raised by the Committee to be addressed by the solicitor or firm.
The Committee will generally allow 6-9 months for such issues to be resolved after which time arrangements will be made for the extended review to be carried out as soon as practicable.
In other cases, the extended review will be carried out without deferral, but in either case the solicitor or firm will have the opportunity to lodge comments.
At least two reviewers, who have not already been involved in the routine review, will be allocated to carry out an extended review and we will tell the firm who they are.
As before, the firm will be given the opportunity to make representations against any particular reviewer being allocated.
Extended reviews will be carried out at the firm’s premises, at SLAB’s expense. The reviewers at an extended review may look at both dead and new files and will apply the same criteria and marking scheme as before.
Where the CHQAC agrees that the solicitor has passed the extended review, we will inform the Compliance Partner in writing and note this on the firm’s compliance record. The solicitor will not normally be the subject of further review until the next peer review cycle (currently six years).
As with routine reviews, we may take up any issues arising from the extended review with the firm and follow them up at the next routine review.
Where we are considering failing a solicitor after extended review, we will inform the Compliance Partner in writing and give the firm the opportunity to make written representations to the CHQAC for further consideration.
If the CHQAC decides that a solicitor has failed an extended review they will then undergo a final review. Back to contents
A final review will normally be carried out not less than six and not more than twelve months from the date of the solicitor and firm being notified that a final review is to take place.
In the period before the final review, we will make support and guidance available to the firm to help them address the issues and problems arising from the routine and extended reviews.
The final review will be carried out at the premises of the firm and at its expense. Two or more reviewers, who have not already been involved in the review, will carry out the review and while they can review any children’s legal assistance file, they are likely to concentrate on new files opened since the extended review looking for signs of progress and steps taken to remedy deficiencies previously identified.
Once completed, the reviewers will report to the CHQAC who will decide whether the solicitor has passed or failed. If they have failed, then the CHQAC will make a recommendation to SLAB for possible de-registration.
Any consideration of de-registration will be taken by SLAB under it’s existing powers in the Legal aid (Scotland) Act 1986, and this could involve the possible de-registration of the individual solicitor, or the firm as appropriate.
If, after a final review, the failure leads to deregistration, a solicitor is entitled to appeal to the Court of Session within 21 days of the intimation of the decision to deregister. Back to contents
In exceptional circumstances, the CQAC may instruct a special review be carried out at any time. These will be undertaken at SLAB's expense at the firm’s premises and will follow the procedure of an extended or final review.
If a solicitor passes a special review they will not be subject to another routine review until the next cycle but may, in exceptional circumstances, be the subject of another special review at any time.
If a special review is to be held, the reviewers allocated for this review, will not have taken part in any previous review carried out on the solicitor or firm in the current cycle.
If a solicitor fails a special review they will be subject to either an extended review or a final review depending on the stage reached in the process and may, pending final review, be subject to further special review. Back to contents
- Marie-Louise Fox , SLAB member (chair person)
- Elizabeth Cushieri, SLAB member
- Alison Reid, Clan Childlaw Ltd (SLAB member)
- Fiona Carey, Linda George Family Law (LSS representative)
- Dozie Azubike (Lay member)
- Colin Speight (Lay Member)
- Martin Toye (Lay Member)
- Professor Alan Paterson (Advisor)
- Anne Brophy, Lanarkshire Law Practice
- Billy Warden, Finlay, MacRae, Gilmartin, Warden
- Eva Comrie, Comrie Law
- Fiona Cook, Cook Stevenson & Co
- Gail Wiggins, The Grant Smith Law Practice
- Gerry McClure, McClure Collins
- Gordon Ghee, Nellany & Co
- Lesley Dowdalls, Mackintosh & Wylie
- Lynne Collingham, T C Young
- Margaret Carlin, McQuillan Glasser & Waughman
- Mark Thorley, Thorley Stephenson Ltd
- Rick Mill, Mill and Millard