QLR stands for ‘Qualified Legal Representative’, which sounds quite simple.
However, in light of a recent article about the topic of QLRs, we thought it would be helpful to give some basic explanations of some of the terminology and the scheme.
The article by Haroon Siddique appeared in the Guardian on Sunday 16 July, under the headline ‘Scheme to stop people being quizzed by abuser in court failing, lawyers say’ .
The article neatly summarises the issue here:
Since last year, family and civil courts have been required in certain cases to appoint a qualified legal representative (QLR) so that litigants in person are not cross-examined by the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of their abuse and vice versa, but there has been a shortage of lawyers signing up to the scheme.
What is being described is a system brought into force by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which created a statutory ban on an alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse asking questions of their alleged victim (and vice versa). The law applies to all cases in the Family Court started after 21 July 2022, and if the ban applies and the person prohibited from asking questions hasn’t appointed their own lawyer to represent them, the court has to appoint a ‘QLR’ to ask questions on their behalf instead. (The ins and outs of the scheme are somewhat more complicated than that, but these are the bare bones).
What does ‘QLR’ mean here?
The acronym ‘QLR’ stands for ‘qualified legal representative’. It’s not a very helpful term to use for a lawyer appointed by the court to ask questions where the party is banned from doing it themselves. The reason it’s not very helpful is that pretty much any lawyer will fall under the description of ‘qualified legal representative’, but the role of a qualified legal representative when instructed by a party is entirely different from the role of a ‘QLR’ appointed by the court to ask questions on behalf of a prohibited person.
Key differences are :
- a QLR appointed by the court is paid for by central funds (government), a qualified legal representative instructed by a party is paid for by the party (or by legal aid if they are eligible),
- a QLR appointed by the court is answerable to the court not a client and does not take instructions from the party, a qualified legal representative instructed by a party is answerable to the party (and the court), acts on the instructions of the party and has duties to the party,
- a QLR appointed by the court only asks questions of witnesses the prohibited party is not allowed to question, they don’t advise and they don’t represent throughout the hearing. They don’t make speeches or written submissions about the substance of the case. A qualified legal representative instructed by a party will (usually) advise before and throughout the hearing, will manage the case in court throughout the hearing, asking questions of all witnesses, chiefing their own client, making representations and submissions etc.
- Lawyers are not required to sign up to the QLR scheme or to accept particular appointments by the court. A barrister who receives instructions from a prospective client as a qualified legal representative has to adhere to the cab rank rule (which means they can’t pick and choose cases freely).
There isn’t a shortage of qualified legal representatives. There IS a shortage of ‘QLR’s. It would be more accurate to call the court appointed variety of QLRs something like Court Appointed Questioners (CAQs!?).
Are QLRS Volunteers?
A quote in the article has caused some inadvertent confusion on the question of why there is a shortage:
Mani Basi, a barrister at 4PB, said: “Whilst the QLR scheme had an incredibly noble and important intention, it seems almost inevitable that anything based on barristers volunteering was going to struggle to get off the ground.
Mani is using the word ‘volunteering’ here in the sense that the lawyers have a choice whether to do this work. He doesn’t mean that the lawyers are expected to do it for free. However, there is an issue with the rates of pay for the QLR scheme, which are similar to legal aid rates (low), but without any allowance for travel expenses. This is probably one of several reasons why lawyers have not signed up in anything like sufficient numbers to make the scheme work.
How big a problem is there with QLRs?
The article gives some stark figures for how many lawyers have signed up (not many) and how often they have been used in the first year or so of the scheme (not often). The figures of QLRs being used in a few hundred cases are tiny in comparison to the tens of thousands of cases involving domestic abuse allegations which pass through the Family Court each year, many of which will require evidence to be given, and where the ban should apply.
Since the Guardian article was published the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has published a report making recommendations for how the family justice system could improve its approach for victims of domestic abuse, and one of the recommendations is that the Qualified Legal Representative scheme should be fully and appropriately resourced in order to ensure effective implementation. You can read more about that report in our separate blog post about the report here:
What can I do if I am banned from cross examination but I can’t afford a lawyer?
- you can wait and see if the court finds a QLR,
- you can try and obtain cheaper or free legal representation (for example via We Are Advocate)
- you could ask the judge to say that someone else could ask the questions (for example, is there someone else who could ask pre-approved questions for you – a McKenzie friend?
The President of the Family Division has recently issued a document which suggests that if a QLR can’t be found judges might have to ask questions on behalf of the prohibited party themselves. It remains to be seen whether judges will take up this suggestion (given that one of the reasons the Domestic Abuse Act brought in these changes was to avoid the need for judges to do this work, which compromised their ability to deal with the case fairly) and whether any attempt by a judge to do this will be the subject of challenge on appeal.
These issues affect not just the person prohibited from asking questions but also the person who needs to be questioned. No QLR means delay and stress. If you are this person and you are represented ask your lawyer if they have any creative suggestions for how to progress things. Is there someone else who could ask the questions the judge has approved? Can your lawyer signpost the other party to a service that might be able to help?
Legal blogging about QLRs
The Transparency Project is interested in legal blogging cases involving QLRs – or where a QLR is needed but unavailable. We would like to report on the impact of these difficulties upon the parties involved in cases, and on how courts are managing these difficult issues.
Please email us at email@example.com with the basic details of any hearing relating to or involving QLRs if you are happy for us to attend, observe and report (anonymously). Please do not send factual detail about the case – we just need the case number, date and time of hearing, time estimate, hearing format (remote or in person) and court name / location, and type of case (children, care proceedings, financial remedy, injunction etc). More detail on legal blogging and what you should and should not send us is contained here. NB if your case is a ‘Reporting Pilot’ case you may be allowed to send us more information.
Please read the FAQs we have linked to above before sending us details of your case, so that you understand how we will deal with information you send us.
Feature pic : Old Derelict Court (Doncaster) Copyright L Reed