Junior lawyers have called for a review of the Legal Services Act after the oversight regulator’s decision to approve the proposed solicitors’ ‘super-exam’ despite widespread opposition.
In response to the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) draft business plan 2019/20, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) said the the absence of an ‘appeal or oversight mechanism’ in the act to challenge the LSB’s approval of applications should be addressed.
The JLD referred to the LSB’s decision in March last year to approve the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) application to introduce the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The LSB approved the application despite concern from academics, the Law Society and the chair of the House of Commons’ Justice Select Committee.
According to the JLD’s response, under the act the LSB may only refuse an application if it is satisfied that one of the refusal criteria has been met.
The JLD said: ‘Many of the concerns raised about the SQE by various parties suggested that its introduction would be contrary to the public interest, would not be in the interest of consumers and would result in lower professional standards. Given the strength, breadth and nature of opposition to the SRA’s SQE application, the JLD is concerned that either the LSB misapplied the refusal criteria or that the refusal criteria themselves are inadequate.’
It added: ‘If the former, then the absence of an appeal or oversight mechanism in the act is a problem which needs to be addressed. If the latter, then the refusal criteria themselves need amendment.’ The JLD said the LSB should revisit the relevant legislative framework and ask the Ministry of Justice to investigate it.
The SQE will consist of two parts. Part one will be a computer-based assessment which will include multiple choice questions. Part two will test practical legal skills and be taken after a period of work-based training. It is due to be introduced in September 2021.
In November last year the Gazette revealed that tentative predictions indicated that taking the new exam will cost between £3,000 and £4,500. Though taking into account potential preparatory courses the final cost could be far higher.