A legal trade union has said it will help students sue the Bar Standards Board for discrimination, as the row over next month’s online examinations escalates.
Legal Sector Workers United said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ by the regulator’s treatment of students on the Bar Professional Training Course, adding ‘we commit to supporting these students in any legal claim for discrimination they may bring against the regulator as far as we can in accordance with our ethical duties’.
A row between students and the Bar Standards Board broke out when candidates requiring reasonable adjustments struggled to enrol in centralised examinations, the majority of which have been moved online because of the pandemic.
Disabled students reported spending hours on the phone trying to book assessment slots, only to be hung up on, and the Gazette understands some still do not know how and where they will sit the tests, which are due to take place in less than three weeks’ time.
Students can request to sit the assessments at a physical exam centre. However, there have been reports of limited test centre availability, and some candidates have allegedly been asked to accept inadequate adjustments.
Legal Sector Workers United said: ‘Let us be clear: this is discrimination. If left unresolved, it will make a mockery of the notion of diversity and social mobility at the bar – a profession in which disabled people are already vastly underrepresented.’
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers group called on the BSB to properly accommodate students and to ensure mitigating circumstances provisions are in place for those requiring adjustment. It also asked chambers to take the issue into account when recruiting pupils.
A spokesperson for the BSB said: 'The BSB has taken great care to ensure that the arrangements for sitting centralised assessments in August take account of our duties under the Equality Act and we do not believe that the arrangements we are making or the technology we have chosen - a system which has been successfully used by Pearson VUE, who deliver more than 16 million exams around the world every year - are in any way discriminatory. Human invigilators are also involved throughout the online proctoring process.'