The Bar Standards Board has postponed qualifying exams until August because of coronavirus, casting doubt over whether students will be able to start pupillage this autumn.
The regulator has announced that centralised exams covering civil litigation, criminal litigation and professional ethics, which were due to take place in April, have been cancelled. The next scheduled opportunity to take the centralised exams will be August 2020.
The BSB said: ‘In light of yesterday’s government statement about the latest measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 we have taken the decision that the April sit of the centralised BPTC and BTT examinations - ie the three subject areas of Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics that are currently set and marked by the BSB - will not go ahead as planned. This is consistent with the advice about travel and social distancing. The next scheduled opportunity to take the centralised exams will be August 2020 but we will need to keep this under review as the situation develops.
It is unclear whether students on the Bar Professional Training Course will qualify in time to start pupillage in September. A spokesperson for the BSB said: ‘At this stage, it is…clearly not possible to give any definite assurances about when it will be possible for potential pupils to fulfil all the requirements that they must do before commencing pupillage. These include provider-set exams, such as advocacy, as well as Inns qualifying sessions and the BSB-set centralised exams.The impact on chambers is also as yet not quantifiable.’
The regulator’s decision applies only to centralised exams that have to be conducted in the same way across the country. Individual law schools are now making alternative arrangements – such as online assessments – so students can complete some of their exams before the summer.
A spokesperson for the University of Law said it will ‘do everything it can to avoid delay to students in starting the next stage of their training (training contract or pupillage)’.
‘We will, therefore, utilise additional assessment points for non-centralised assessments where possible between June and September. Where permitted by the regulators (SRA and BSB) we will also convert assessments to online methods.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.
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Bar exam delay sparks pupillage fears