BSB mulls new ‘super bar exam’ that could allow non-graduates to become barristers

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By Thomas Connelly on

Bar regulator to host debate next month discussing three new proposed routes to qualification


The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is considering a new bar super exam that could see non-graduates qualify as barristers.

The proposal is part of three new routes to qualification currently being considered by the bar’s regulator, and will be officially unveiled at public debate next month.

Option C — or the “Bar Specialist” option as the BSB has branded it — is certainly the more revolutionary of the three new training routes.

According to the BSB, this option proposes to establish a “qualifying examination” testing both aspiring barrister’s legal skills and knowledge. Not only would this super bar exam be “open to any candidate” but they can, according to the BSB, “prepare any way they choose”. So, in theory, non-graduates could undertake this new training route.

Having passed the new exam, wannabe barristers would still be required to undertake a shorter version of the current Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). It is intended that this diet version of the BPTC will primarily focus on practical bar skills such as advocacy. And, of course, those keen to pursue a career at the bar would still have to complete pupillage.

The other two proposals are slightly less radical, but will still no doubt raise a few eyebrows with more traditional members of the bar.

Option A — or the “Evolutionary” option — suggests keeping the “existing academic, vocational and pupillage sequences” but with greater focus on “liberalising” training and increasing the “flexibility” of pupillage.

Meanwhile proposal B, dubbed the “Managed Pathways” option, would see the existing route to qualification remain but introduce three further options for aspiring barristers. First, there would be “a combined law degree and vocational training”. Second, “a vocational training programme which is integrated with pupillage”. And, finally, “a modular approach that enables candidates to commit to training one step at a time”.

All three new training options have been developed following a public consultation undertaken by the BSB last year which examined the academic, vocational and pupillage requirements needed to become qualified as a barrister. They will be officially presented to an audience of “invited delegates” at the BSB’s The Future Bar Training debate on 7 July.

With the regulator yet to form “a view on which option is best”, BSB director of education and training Dr Simon Thornton-Wood said:

We want to make sure, as far as is practical, that the only requirement for qualification and authorisation as a barrister is having the requisite knowledge, skills and attributes to meet the standards of the professional statement. By introducing a more flexible route to qualification, we hope to ensure future access to the profession in a way that enables candidates from all walks of life to consider a career at the bar. The future of bar training should ensure it produces competent barristers, and ultimately a legal system in which a diverse public can have confidence.

Next month’s debate will be hosted by BSB director general Dr Vanessa Davies, who will be joined by guest speakers giving short presentations on the new proposed routes.

You can register your interest here.