Under pressure from stakeholders, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has proposed that students taking the solicitors’ ‘super-exam’ should be permitted to write their answers in Welsh – but question papers will remain in English.
According to papers for last month's board meeting, Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, suggested that candidates taking the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) should be able to submit written answers in Welsh.
However, she said translating the questions would be ‘very expensive’ and would not be a ‘proportionate response’ to demand. ‘It appears likely that the number of candidates sitting SQE in Welsh will be modest,’ Brannan said.
Under these proposals, the multiple-choice section of the SQE would only be published in English for the time being. Brannan said she did ‘not think [it would be] desirable’ to translate this section as it would be ‘very expensive’ and ‘it would be difficult to ensure exact equivalence between English and Welsh versions’.
Students would also be unable to take the oral skills assessment in Welsh for the first live assessments.
The SRA board agreed to conduct a feasibility study and seek stakeholder views on giving candidates the option to write their answers in Welsh. The board also agreed to explore the possibility of candidates taking their oral test in Welsh after the SQE has been introduced.
Meanwhile, it agreed to seek stakeholder views on the SRA’s position that it should not translate multiple choice questions into Welsh at this time.
Alan East, chair of the education and training committee at the Law Society, said: 'We are disappointed that the SRA will not be delivering the SQE in Welsh. Given that one of the key justifications of the SQE is to open access to the profession, an opportunity has been missed.
'As the representative body for solicitors in England and Wales, we will be raising this with the SRA in the hope they reconsider this policy position, particularly as it seems to be based purely on cost.'
David Dixon, senior law and politics lecturer at Cardiff University, said: ‘The SRA appears to have consistently looked for ways to avoid translating the SQE into Welsh rather than trying to overcome the issues which arise from their foolish wish to foist a uniform set of assessments on aspiring solicitors at a time when the laws of England and Wales are diverging.’
According to SRA figures, less than 1% of solicitors in practice told the regulator they speak Welsh. 750 practising certificates are issued in Welsh every year.