The Bar Council has criticised Bar Standards Board proposals for alternative ways of qualifying, claiming its consultation into future training at the bar misses a ‘long-awaited opportunity for reform’. It also dismisses the need for a central exam along the lines of the solicitors qualifying examination.
Responding to the consultation today, the barristers' representative body says the proposals as they stand will confuse students and chambers, increase the regulatory burden and have an adverse impact on equality and diversity.
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 would mean students would have to take a specialist exam, or sticking with the current system.
However, the council said trainees might end up sticking with the existing system anyway as permitting multiple routes could create confusion. It said the current route comes with ‘increasing and unsatisfactory cost’.
Currently, trainees undergo three stages of training: academic education, vocational training and work-based training.
Although the Bar Council agrees there is a need for reform, it said the academic and work-based stages should be retained in their current format, but that opportunities should be opened up to provide the vocational stage more flexibly.
The response states: ‘If there are a multiplicity of routes, we query how consumers will feel capable of judging the quality of the barrister that they are instructing. This is not in the public interest and does not improve access to justice.’
It adds that if the BSB is seeking to regulate and supervise a variety of routes to the profession, and having to adopt a different approach to each, costs will inevitably increase.
The council also warns that the high costs of qualifying were putting off prospective barristers.
A sum ‘in the order of £25m’ is wasted on course fees every year. It bases those figures on a 'generous' estimate that 40% of some 2,600 students obtain pupillage. Each of those students would have paid an average fee of £16,000.
‘These statistics should surely compel the conclusion that reform, but not major disruption, is vital,’ it adds.
On proposals for a super-exam, akin to the one currently being floated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the council said there was ‘no demonstrable need for an initial bar entrance exam’.