Top law lecturers express urgent concerns over SQE as they call on regulator to delay roll-out

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By Thomas Connelly on

Too much uncertainty for uni-hopefuls to make ‘educated decision’, says Committee of Heads of UK Law Schools

There is still too much uncertainty surrounding the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) for school-leavers to make an informed decision about their choice of undergraduate degree, a group of leading law lecturers have warned.

In a letter to Anna Bradley, chair of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Committee of Heads of UK Law Schools (CHULS) said hundreds of thousands of young students are starting to research their futures before UCAS applications reopen in September.

But the group claims it is currently impossible for students, specifically those seeking to become solicitors, to make an “educated decision” due to the current uncertainty about the introduction of the SQE — due to come into force in September 2021.

The CHULS, which represents law lecturers at unis across the UK, says under the current rules solicitors must have completed a law degree or postgraduate diploma in law, but if the SQE is given the go-ahead, the SRA will no longer require students to have undertaken a period of legal education at degree level.

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The letter says: “However, the SQE does not yet have regulatory approval, and the SRA do not intend to apply for regulatory approval until the summer of 2020. We do not know exactly when this will be, or when a decision will be made. As it stands major aspects of the examinations remain uncertain — including, for example, how and when skills will be assessed. The SRA do not plan to report back on their pilot of part of the examination until the summer — perhaps not until immediately before they apply for approval…”

It continues: “The problem is that no one knows for definite whether the SQE will be introduced, or what it will look like, until regulatory approval has been given. The plans could be rejected, they could be postponed, or the SRA could be forced to radically change them. No university is able at this stage to tell students how or if their university education will prepare them for the assessments, and none are able to fully answer questions for prospective students about their choices.”

The group goes on to urge the SRA to delay the introduction of the SQE, “to ensure that young people making these vital decisions have the information available to make their choice”.

The signatories to the letter are: Professor Adam Gearey, secretary general, Association of Legal Scholars; Professor Rosie Harding, chair, Socio-Legal Studies Association; Professor Rebecca Probert, president, Society of Legal Scholars; Caroline Strevens, chair, Association of Law Teachers; and Carly Stychin, chair, CHULS.

An SRA spokesperson said: “We have only just received the letter and will respond in due course.”

The SQE will be split into two parts: SQE1 focusing on black letter law and taking the form of a computer-based, multiple-choice assessment, while SQE2 will test prospective solicitors’ practical legal skills such as advocacy and interviewing. It will replace both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

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