Simon Thornton-Wood

Thornton-Wood: “Lack of clear and consistent standards in points of entry” to legal profession

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to launch a ‘professional statement’ which, like the ‘competence statement’ being developed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), will attempt to describe the knowledge and skills barristers should possess at the point of qualification.

Simon Thornton-Wood, the BSB’s director of education and training, said the statement must be expressed in “meaningful and informative” terms which “align with those used by fellow regulators”.

He said that by being “very clear” on the things barristers needed to know to work effectively, the BSB would create “flexibility for the profession and the providers of training to determine their own solutions”.

Speaking at this week’s Westminster Legal Policy Forum on implementation of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), Mr Thornton-Wood said: “The LETR reassured policymakers and practitioners that the training provided today does indeed meet current needs for competent practice. This is a good thing.

“It presented little in the way of direct answers to the quickly-evolving economic problems that are now so visible in the market. The extent to which the LETR gives room for different interpretations of the nature and scale of the challenge has made creating consensus complicated.

“But it did point us perfectly clearly to the lack of clear and consistent standards at points of entry in our wider current system of training.”

Mr Thornton-Wood said the BSB needed “to do something about that” and could “fairly readily define” the skills that people expected to be practiced to a high standard by barristers.

He said the BSB should be “ever attentive to the accessibility of the Bar”, given the cost of training and “declining trend of opportunity in important fields of practice”.

Mr Thornton-Wood went on: “It is easy to characterise this as a straightforward problem of cost, but we also know that the skills for effective practice in any professional domain are not cheaply bought. If the cost of training cannot be dramatically eroded at the stroke of a regulator’s pen, we do believe that greater flexibility will yield its own return in affordability.”

Mr Thornton-Wood said the BSB’s “route-map to address those principles emerging from LETR” was ‘Future Bar Training’, launched last week, which would include“different approaches” to deliver the content of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

He said other approaches could offer “no less quality” but could help ensure the needs of a “diversity of good candidates” for the Bar were met. He said the BSB aimed to implement changes to the BPTC from September 2017.

Mr Thornton-Wood added that he was “interested in the role that centralised assessment can play in shifting the emphasis of regulation toward learning outcomes”, but certain skills, particularly advocacy, should be “developed and embedded in a structured way”.

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