Centuries-old traditions of the Inns of Court, including mandatory ‘dining sessions’, could be under threat if the Bar Standards Board goes ahead with proposals to shake up the route to qualifying as a barrister.

In a paper published yesterday on Future Bar Training, the Bar Standards Board said it is seeking views on whether the roles that the inns play ‘remain appropriate’.

The Inns of Courts’ responsibilities for the training of barristers include calling new barristers to the bar and supervising students’ conduct. They are also responsible for:

  • Regulatory oversight of students;
  • Approval of pupil supervisors, and providing pupil supervisor training;
  • Provision of mandatory training courses during pupillage; and
  • Provision of ‘qualifying sessions’ and waiving/modifying the requirements of these.

Under one option in the paper, the BSB said it could remain mandatory for barristers to be called by one of the inns but that it would consider non members to be eligible for call. 

Under another option, the BSB would take over from the inns the role of carrying out educational and ‘fit and proper person’ checks on pupil barristers. Another option suggests that the BSB could remove the requirement for mandatory qualifying sessions – of which there are currently 12.

The BSB said it understands the ‘historic and supportive role’ played by the inns and ‘has no intention’ of changing what works well.

It added: ‘As a matter of good regulatory practice it is important to go back to first principles in relation to the roles that the inns play in our regulatory arrangements. This means asking whether the roles they play remain appropriate as a compulsory requirement in the light of our new approach to bar training.’

The BSB has also proposed that a rule requiring pupillages to last a minimum of 12 months could be abolished and that the minimum financial support for pupils, (currently £12,000) should be raised to match the national living wage (£13,650), or London living wage (£17,745).

The regulator rubber-stamped plans to change training methods earlier this year and agreed to adopt a ‘managed pathways’ approach. Under that method, courses will be ‘more flexible and fit with the requirements of students’.

Currently, trainees undergo three stages of training: academic education, vocational training and work-based training. The BSB’s proposed approach, agreed at a board meeting in March, would permit trainees to take different routes, including combining the sections.

Ewen MacLeod, director of strategy and policy at the BSB, said: ‘We want to build on what already works well in the current system, maintain the high standards of entry for newly qualified barristers, and to encourage innovation and flexibility for the Bar in the way that work-based training for barristers is delivered.’

A Bar Council spokesperson said the consulation included 'significant proposals for change' and that the council would be putting together a working group specifically to look at the consultation and shape the response to it.

'However, we would encourage chambers, individual members of the bar, specialist bar associations and the circuits to give consideration to these proposals, which may will have a major impact on the training of barristers,' the spokesperson added.

The consultation closes on 8 January 2018 with any new rules expected to come into effect in 2019.