Bar students are getting even worse at ethics, official report shows

Avatar photo

By Jonathan Ames on

If four-year trend continues, more than half of those on the BPTC are likely to fail ethics module at first go next year

Head in Hands

Bar students have continued to slide into a pit of unethical despair, figures from the body monitoring vocational course pass rates show.

The overall pass rate for the ethics module on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) tumbled again last year — down to less than 57% from 65.5% the previous year.

Even more dramatic is the change over the last four years. In 2011-12, 85% of bar students managed to tell right from wrong at the first time of asking. But if the current trend continues, next year could see more than half of wannabe barristers having to re-sit the exam.

The depressing figures were revealed in this year’s report from the chairman to the Bar Standards Board’s central examinations board.

The official figures came just a month after hundreds of BPP Law School wannabe barristers unexpectedly failed the BPTC ethics module. At the time, both students and at least one senior BPTC academic claimed the exam questions were worded confusingly.

But the latest annual report also exposed disturbing figures regarding the ability of bar students to get their heads round other subjects crucial to the business of being a barrister.

Eight institutions offer the BPTC from 11 outposts across England and Wales. Of those 11, nine reported significantly drops in the pass rate on the criminal litigation module. Indeed, one unidentified institution — the report does not name and shame — saw its criminal litigation pass rate tumble by nearly 30%.

First sit changes in provider pass rate 2013/14 vs 2014/15


Crime and ethics were not the only concerns. The BPTC institutions produced marginally better results in relation to civil litigation pass rates — but nonetheless, five of the 11 still reported percentage drops varying from about 12% down to 1%.

In the report, the BSB highlighted students’ poor knowledge of criminal law across nine of 11 centres. “The decline across nine providers in the performance in criminal litigation is disappointing,” it said with delicate understatement.

Reacting to the chairman’s report, a BSB spokesperson pointed out that “this is the first year the professional ethics examination has been based on the new handbook”. While the Bar Council, which represents the profession, declined to comment on the plunging pass rates.

Read the report in full below:

Central Examination Board Report August 2015


Official survey: bar students are rubbish at ethics [Legal Cheek]