Junior lawyers question legal watchdog’s ‘refusal criteria’ following SQE approval

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By Legal Cheek on

Super-exam was given go-ahead by LSB despite calls to delay

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A group of junior lawyers have expressed concerns over the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) decision to approve the regulator’s application to introduce a centralised super-exam.

Responding to the legal watchdog draft business plan 2019/20, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) noted that under the Legal Services Act 2007, the LSB has the power to refuse an application only if it is satisfied that one of the “refusal criteria” has been met. This includes “granting the application would be contrary to the public interest” and “protecting and promoting the interests of consumers”.

The JLD noted that the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) application to introduce sweeping changes to legal education, namely the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), was approved by the LSB in March 2018. This came despite the Justice Committee requesting it delay its decision for six months, “to enable the SRA’s application to be given more careful scrutiny”.

The JLD continued: “Given the strength, breadth and nature of opposition to the SRA’s SQE application, the JLD is concerned that either the LSB misapplied the refusal criteria or that the refusal criteria themselves are inadequate. If the former, then the absence of an appeal or oversight mechanism in the act is a problem which needs to be addressed. If the latter, then the refusal criteria themselves need amendment. Either way, the JLD would ask that the LSB does revisit the relevant legislative framework and make a request to the Ministry of Justice to investigate this.”

In November 2018, the SRA revealed students will “likely” pay between £3,000 and £4,500 to sit the new solicitor super-exam. However, these figures do not include preparation course fees, which are likely to add thousands onto the final training bill. At the time, JLD chair, Amy Clowrey, told Legal Cheek: “The JLD has major concerns about the cost of the SQE. This will certainly impact negatively upon those from a low socio-economic background, particularly if funding options are unavailable.”

The super-exam will replace both the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC), and is set to come into force in autumn 2021.

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