Petitions demand that wannabe lawyers be allowed to take assessments at home
Law students are protesting against coronavirus-induced exam postponements, urging regulators to relax supervision requirements instead.
A petition organised by students on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) asks the solicitors’ regulator to reconsider its decision not to allow exams to be taken at home rather than in person. That is likely to mean law schools postponing exams for months to comply with government advice for the entire country to avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others.
Meanwhile, the organisation that oversees barrister training has postponed the centralised exams on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) until at least August 2020. Another petition, organised by BPTC students, calls this “inadequate” and demands that the regulator “make adjustments to the format of the exam” instead.
Hundreds of students have so far signed the two missives, addressed respectively to the heads of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB).
The LPC petition says that the SRA’s “duty of care towards those who it regulates” should be prioritised over its regulatory obligations. It notes that effectively expanding the length of the LPC course will be a massive blow to international students, carers and those expecting to work summer jobs.
It also points out that the government’s scientific advice is that restrictive social distancing could be needed for 18 months or more — meaning there’s no guarantee that the exams can take place any time soon. If the situation isn’t resolved by the autumn, LPC students due to join firms in August/September could have to sit their exams during their training contracts.
The LPC-ers want the regulator to consider allowing law schools to arrange remote exams with the aid of existing software programmes, accompanied by declarations that it’s all their own work.
A spokesperson for the SRA referred Legal Cheek to its previous statement, emphasising that “it’s important that [exam] supervision is in place to ensure integrity and security”.
The BPTC petition is similarly drafted and records the same sorts of concerns. It tells the BSB:
“Given the very significant knock-on consequences of delaying the exams (potentially indeterminately), it is clear that it is the format of the exams, not their timing, which must be changed.”
That way, the barrister hopefuls say, “the assessments could take place in line with the original timetable and be finished by the end of May 2020”.
A spokesperson for the BSB told us: “We are very conscious that this is an uncertain and worrying time for students but, at the current time, we have nothing further to add to the statement which we published yesterday [Tuesday].”