More than 500 barristers have signed an open letter opposing the Bar Standards Board’s proposals to shake up the training regime for would-be barristers.
In a letter published today, the barristers, who include former master of the rolls and lord chief justice Lord Woolf, say the consultation is not ‘guided by a proper understanding’ of the BSB’s objective of promoting and protecting the public interest.
In September last year, the BSB proposed three options for new training methods.
The proposed routes include a ‘managed pathways’ approach, in which courses are more flexible and fit with the requirements of students; a ‘bar-specific’ approach, which require students to take a specialist exam; or sticking with the current system. According to the BSB, the ‘managed pathways’ approach is its preferred option.
The open letter condemns as 'absurd' the idea of barristers taking an exam, as solicitors may have to if proposals for a Solicitors Qualifying Exam are approved. It is ‘inconceivable’, the letter goes on to say, that a single exam or series of exams could adequately assess all of the topics ordinarily covered.
Calling the proposals ‘radical and unappealing’, the open letter says it would be ’difficult and expensive’ for the BSB to set and mark an examination capable of testing all the foundational areas of legal knowledge.
The letter, sent to BSB chair Andrew Burns, signed by 505 barristers, as well as a string of student barristers, says the BSB’s preference for the ‘managed pathways’ option is not based on any research.
‘Further, the regulatory costs associated with approving and quality-assuring multiple routes are simply ignored,’ it adds.
The Bar Council has already criticised the proposals as missing a ‘long-awaited opportunity for reform’.
In the open letter, the barristers agree with the council’s position, adding that the ‘underlying cause’ of the current problems is that the BPTC provision has become a ‘self serving’ industry which has ‘vastly outgrown its raison d’être of training people in preparation for their becoming one of the people who commence providing legal services'.
Instead, it says the BSB should focus on ensuring that those with a realistic prospect of obtaining pupillage receive ‘high quality training’ at the most efficient cost.
According to the letter, just 430 pupillages are available every year, while more than 1,500 people commence the BPTC.