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Over 500 barristers sign open letter to BSB chairman attacking training reform proposals

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Regulator’s consultation into future bar training closed yesterday

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Over 500 barristers have publicly slammed the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) proposed training reforms in an open letter to its chairman.

The letter, addressed to Sir Andrew Burns, claims that the alternatives to the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) that have been put forward are “not guided by a proper understanding of the BSB’s statutory objectives of promoting and protecting the public interest.”

Launched back in October, the BSB-led consultation trumpeted several new training options for aspiring barristers. These included the ‘managed pathways’ approach, which promoted new bar-focused law degrees, and the ‘bar specialist’ approach, which would introduce a new super-exam “open to any candidate”. The BSB then invited opinions on this in a consultation that closed yesterday.

The open letter — which has been signed by ex-Lord Chief Justice and Blackstone Chambers barrister Lord Woolfe — continues:

[The consultation paper] fails to identify the underlying cause of the current problems, namely the fact that BPTC provision has become a self-serving industry that has vastly outgrown its raison d’être of training people in preparation for their becoming one of the people who commence providing legal services every year as members of the Bar of England and Wales.

Highlighting what they believe are “serious flaws” with the BSB’s new proposals, the signatories go on to throw their support behind the Bar Council’s alternative approach. Not included in the original consultation paper, the Bar Council and The Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) have suggested splitting the BPTC in two.

Part one would feature the “knowledge-based parts” of the vocational course, such as civil and criminal procedure, with law school attendance at this stage remaining optional. Part two would then see aspiring barristers tackle the “skills-based elements” including advocacy, drafting and conferencing skills. It is at this point that students will have to attend law school.

According to the letter, this approach “represents a practicable and realistic way forward” and would “reduce the overall costs of qualification”. The latest figures show that a place on the BPTC can cost in excess of £19,000 for those wishing to study in London.

Read the open letter in full below:

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