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Gove: make it harder to get onto the BPTC

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Possible pro bono “levy” on City firms also gets a mention

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For someone who has nothing to do with the ministry of justice, Michael Gove certainly delivered a hard-hitting critique of prisons and the state of the criminal bar this week.

On what might be viewed as Truss’s turf, former justice sec and brexiter, Gove, argued there is a “case for a higher quality filter being applied before people can read for the bar” and that he: “would like to see the Inns of Court play a significant part in establishing a higher quality threshold”. He said:

Criminal work is now in increasing danger through the slow strangulation of the supply of talent it needs to prosper.

Gove has certainly hit a raw nerve here; concerns about how quantity may be trumping quality on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) have been rumbling for some time now. There was the introduction of the now much-maligned new Bar Council Aptitude Test in 2013 which has since had to have its pass mark raised over fears it was impossible to fail. In 2015, a report was damning of the BPTC.

The speech also gave a passing reference to the highly controversial issue of a 1% tax on the turnover of the top 100 City law firms to pay for legal aid. He floated the “responsibility of the very wealthiest in the legal profession to do more to support the rule of law and access to justice, which we could deliver through a levy on the incomes of the most successful.”

Gove’s timing was (politically-speaking) perfect. The speech highlighted the dire state of the UK’s prisons which has come to light recently with instances of violence and unrest in HMPs: 200 prisoners rioted at HMP Bedford, and earlier this week prison officers tried to stage a protest against the unprecedented levels of violence until the High Court declared their actions unlawful.

If anyone is wondering why he chose to deliver this year’s annual Longford Lecture even though he is no longer minister of justice, it was because, he said, he was “determined to honour” the achievements of Frank Longford, once a hereditary peer and penal reformer, an eccentric figure who once called for Moors murderer, Myra Hindley, to be paroled.

Read Gove’s speech in full below: