Cites possible equality benefits
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is proposing to eliminate the requirement for students pursuing bar vocational courses to have obtained a degree.
The new proposals, part of an ongoing consultation, would see the current requirement of a lower second class degree scrapped, with law schools permitted to accept students with lower degrees, or without a degree at all.
Instead, whether an aspiring barrister is able to start their vocation studies will be a decision made by individual training providers. They “will decide whether a prospective barrister is ready to start the vocational training, taking into account a holistic view of their training, experience and academic record”.
This may allow for those with “qualifications that can be regarded as equivalent to a UK law degree” to commence vocational bar training without first completing a degree, “the most obvious [example] perhaps being successful completion of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination part one,” the BSB said.
The BSB said that the proposed modifications, subject to approval from the Legal Services Board, were planned to take effect from September 2025.
The consultation notes that there is, “the risk of Authorised Education and Training Organisations being either over stringent or not stringent enough in their approach to admissions”, and that action may need to be taken to ensure that their processes are “neither too permissive nor too restrictive”. The consultation confirms, however, that the proposed changes “would not be at odds with the “high standards” principle because a threshold of competence would still need to be met, so there is no lowering of standards.”
Underpinning this push for change, the report says, is a sentiment that “the way we set the standards for academic legal training is overly prescriptive and difficult to understand.” This, the consultation says, “has created a complex system of applications for exemptions from and waivers of, those requirements.”
“We want to simplify and modernise our approach to academic legal training and to remove unnecessary barriers to entry into the profession without any compromise to the principle of sustaining high standards.”
The consultation also proposes removing the existing time limits whereby students must complete their law degree within six years, and commence their vocational course within five years of graduating.
Amongst the potential benefits of the reforms is the possibility that lowering the degree requirement “could have a positive impact on applicants from Black and Asian backgrounds”, with research showing that “graduates who are more likely to achieve a degree classification of lower than a 2:2 are more likely to be from Black, and Asian backgrounds, which under the current requirements could negatively impact such applicants”.
Other benefits may include simplifying the process for overseas graduates, and removing barriers for women, carers, and those with long-term medical conditions who under the current rules may have to apply for time limit exemptions.
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