Concerns over SRA solicitor super-exam proposals reach House of Lords

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Lord Low of Dalston questioned whether the new vocational training regime would have a negative impact on law schools

Concerns surrounding the new regulator-backed solicitor super-exam have reached the House of Lords.

During a session in the upper house yesterday afternoon, Lord Low of Dalston — a former law lecturer who now heads up the advisory board of the University of Leeds’ law school — suggested that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s super-exam may have a detrimental impact on law school curricula. Rising to his feet, he said:

Is [the government] not aware of the widespread concern that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s proposals will mean that universities have to teach to the solicitors qualifying examination if they are to remain competitive, potentially constraining the breadth of the curriculum that can be taught as part of an academic law degree and stifling innovation in curriculum development?

The super-exam — or Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE) as it’s officially known — combines elements of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). First unveiled by the regulator back in December 2015, the proposals, if given the green light, would mean that all wannabe solicitors would need to pass this all-encompassing assessment prior to qualification.

Advocate General for Scotland Lord Keen of Elie, responding on behalf of the government, told the House: “we do not believe that if these proposals were taken forward, it would have such a stultifying effect upon the university law schools to which the noble Lord refers”.

Wading into the debate, Lord Beecham — citing the recent decimation in legal aid and subsequent rise in unrepresented litigants — asked whether any new qualification programme should “include a requirement to provide pro bono advice and representation?”

To this, Lord Keen of Elie responded:

My Lords, as I have already indicated, the question of what qualification requirements there should be is a matter for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and for the Legal Services Board. However, ​of course they are concerned to pursue their statutory obligations, which include a requirement to have regard to the demands upon the profession.

In other House of Lords news, today peers gathered to discuss the government’s Brexit bill, full name the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The bill is currently at its report stage, and the Lords and Ladies are now considering a Labour-led amendment on giving parliament a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal.

Among the constitutional law grapples was this amusing titbit: Lord Pannick QC — who represented lead claimant Gina Miller in the Brexit challenge — addressed the upper house this afternoon and said parliament must be written into the bill, “no ifs, no buts”. In response, Lord Forsyth said the Blackstone Chambers barrister was responsible for a “clever lawyer’s confection to reverse the result of the referendum”. This was Pannick’s response:

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