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Will the BPTC class of 2014 have no ethics?

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This year’s wannabe barristers are being taught last year’s superseded Bar code of conduct, it has emerged.

A QC has slammed the providers of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) after discovering that they are teaching an outdated code of conduct to this year’s students.

Writing on his blog, Pupillage And How To Get It, Simon Myerson QC suggested that law schools “should be ashamed of themselves” for basing their 2014 ethics module on last year’s significantly different rules.

The Leeds-based silk became aware of the situation after spending a weekend with Middle Temple students in York. He added: “The BSB should have realised the difficulty and sorted it. Not much point regulating the profession unless you give a stuff about its students.”

The new revised Bar Code of Conduct (contained within the new Bar Handbook) came into force on 6 January this year, having been approved by the Legal Services Board (LSB) in July 2013.

We contacted the BSB to put Myerson’s criticisms to them. Head of education and training Simon Thornton-Wood told us:

“In setting out the 2014 BPTC course, providers asked that the syllabus be agreed early in 2013. The development, review and approval process for course materials in a programme of this scale requires very careful advance planning. It was not until the Legal Services Board approved the new Handbook in July 2013 that there was any real certainty it would be coming into force this year.

“We’ve worked closely with both providers and students to make sure that, by the end of their BPTC, students know about the new Handbook – and the key changes it introduces – which will be fully reflected in next year’s syllabus and exams. That said, it is important to point out that the core principles of the professional ethics to which we expect barristers to adhere remain unchanged from previous years.”

This response is unlikely to pacify Myerson, who is calling on chambers to “cut some slack” to the BPTC class of 2014 by ensuring “that the first 6 months includes the ethics training for which they have already paid but have received no value whatever.” He has also suggested that “the entities making money out of students could provide a percentage of it to offer more pupillages for the beleaguered publicly funded Bar.”

6 Comments

Trav

This goes to show how out of touch this silk and the BSB are.

Having months and months of pointless classroom based learning on ethics is a waste of time and money. Students will memorise the rules for the exam and then forget all about them a few months later. When in practice, they will use their common sense and judgment – and when in doubt they will refer to the Code or call the BSB hotline. The £17k they paid for the luxury of classroom based ethics learning is a waste, regardless of whether it is the new or old Code that they are being taught.

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Simon Myerson QC

Wrong. Ethics are not about a few rules. Nor are they primarily about common sense and judgement. They are about the proper way for a barrister to behave. That is not the way that ‘everyone’ knows you should behave – and even when it is that is a coincidence. Ethics is about doing your best to ensure that the public – including those in desperate trouble and dire straits who you have never met – know they can trust you, even when if they win you are locked up/lose a fortune/don’t see your child.

And, astonishingly, that is how most people see it. Even those on the losing side.

To achieve that result needs teaching by textbook and by example. referring to the code is the start, not the answer. Calling the hotline is a way of having a mutually informative discussion (I know because I have volunteered to do it). It is not a way of being spoon fed the answer – you have to work it out for yourself and if you get it wrong you can lose your livelihood.

Your comment suggests that ethics are just the tedious answer to the odd question. I’m sure you didn’t mean to convey that impression. In fact, ethics are the way of professional life and, if that is a problem for you, you should do something else. If it isn’t a problem for you then, on reflection, you may agree that you start at the beginning and keep learning.

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Not Amused

Simon your comments suggest that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not suitable for the profession. There are several ways in which the Bar has taught ethics over the last few centuries and no one way of teaching them is entirely valid (nor should we give up trying to discover new ways of teaching them). What we are doing all the time is surely *trying* to teach ethics; *trying* to instil ethics and *trying* to uphold ethics.

We are all rightly proud of that but I don’t think it’s right to try and push a “my way or the highway” approach on someone who is just trying to discuss the relative merits of how ethics are currently taught. These are often young people we’re talking to in this ‘media space’ and we should probably try (and I recognise this duty upon myself and believe me I wish I was better) to be a bit less polarised because although we know that barristers are just normal people – we can have a really disproportionate impact on a young person if we don’t take extra care.

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Not Amused

Having just read another comment. I obviously am coming across too negatively, so will genuinely try harder.

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Trav

Simon, I think you slightly missed the point. Ethics are important, but cannot be taught sitting in a class for several months and at an insane price.

The ethics code taught to current BPTC students was not taught to those who joined the bar a decade ago. Would you say those who recently joined the Bar are more ethical than older members who were not taught ethics? Ethics is something that can be self-taught (by reading the guidelines and discussing it with colleagues) in 1 day for no charge. The poor current students have to carry out the tedious task of reading up on ethics every week for months on end.

Those who graduate in 2014 having learnt the old code are in no different position to every other current member of the Bar. Those who learn the new code next year will not be better off either.

This is something that only those who have recently gone through the BPTC/BVC process can understand. I do sometimes think that older members of the Bar vastly overestimate benefits of the BPTC, as though it produces ethical, highly trained barristers. The truth is that it churns out frustrated students who have been scammed out of £17k and lost 1 year of their youth.

The BPTC could be a 3 months summer course, with a day or two on ethics.

The real issues with the BPTC are the absurd length (one whole year) and the crazy price (£17k). I find it surprising that when a senior member of the Bar criticises the BPTC, he picks out the most insignificant of issues: that the old ethics code is being taught rather than the new one!

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Student

Could the 20% slump in the pass rates be seen to be to be a deliberate action?

As students are not allowed to see their papers, not even after they have received their grades- students are having to resit not knowing where they went wrong.

Fishy.

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