Preventing candidates with a 2:2 degree from being accepted onto the bar training course could ‘unduly restrict access to the profession’, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has warned.
In a consultation, Future Bar Training, the Bar Standards Board proposed raising the minimum requirement candidates needed to be accepted onto the Bar Professional Training Course to a 2:1. The regulator said those with a lower second-class degree might not possess the ‘relevant intellectual abilities’.
But the watchdog warned that this would be a ‘disproportionate’ measure, which could prevent meritorious students from entering the profession.
It said there is ‘little or no evidence presented to support the notion that those who achieve 2:2 classifications would deliver poor outcomes for consumers, or those who qualified and are practising with 2:2 degrees offer inferior services’.
The panel said while universities’ classification process might have ‘passed its sell by date’, the flaws in the system ‘cannot be used to justify a blanket ban’.
It suggested that instead the BSB should take into account student’s Higher Education Achievement Reports, an online report which outlines students’ academic and extra-curricular achievements, which go beyond the limitation of degree classifications.
The watchdog said candidates with a 2:2 degree could be asked to sit a further test before being offered a place.
Senior lecturer and ex-City lawyer Dr Steven Vaughan also criticised the idea that future barristers should have a 2:1 or above, warning that such a requirement could discriminate against black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students.
He asked: ‘How comfortable are you as to equality and diversity implications of this proposed course of action? Given, as you note, the increasing number of upper seconds over time, all this requirement may do is serve to exclude (even more) BAME entrants from the bar.’
He said the regulator’s proposals are based on three false assumptions: that all degrees are comparable, that different degrees assess student’s intellectual abilities in the same way, and that universities calculate overall awards in the same way.
Responding to other aspects of the consultation, the Legal Services Consumer Panel backed the regulator’s proposal to only specify and control the final staging of vocational training, with a focus on outcomes.
The panel said this proposal would address some of its concerns around affordability - the costs of taking the training course in London can exceed £18,000 - as it could allow students to study at home or through other cost-effective means of training.
It also suggested the BSB considers ‘the wider role and duties’ of a barrister to help them meet the needs of consumers, as some barristers serve customers at times when they are vulnerable.