The Bar Standard Board (BSB) is planning to scrap the requirement that Bar students have at least a lower second-class degree, opening the way for those with third-class degrees or no degree at all to become a barrister.
Meanwhile the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing to ban lawyers, often based overseas, who fail either part of its Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) from claiming an exemption afterwards.
In a consultation paper last week, the BSB said it wanted to change the definition of academic training. “This change would mean that applicants without a degree could apply for entry onto a vocational course.”
However, all applicants “would be assessed against the same criteria, that is, whether they are competent in respect of academic legal training”.
Would-be barristers currently need a law degree or alternatively a degree in another subject plus the graduate diploma in law (GDL) to join the Bar training course. The degree must be at least a 2:2. Students who do not meet the requirements can apply to the BSB for an exemption.
The BSB said that the existing regime did not take into account “qualifications that can be regarded as equivalent” to a UK law degree or non-law degree and GDL, the “most obvious perhaps” being successful completion of the SQE part one.
The existing system also referred only to UK degrees and not to those awarded overseas.
The BSB said the rules and decision-making processes for the academic component of training were “overly complex and in need of simplification and modernisation” to bring them in line with its outcomes-focused approach.
Standards for academic legal training were “overly prescriptive and difficult to understand”, which had created “a complex system of applications for exemptions from, and waivers of, those requirements”.
Presently, prospective barristers who are non-graduates or overseas applicants must obtain a certificate of academic standing from the BSB before they can start a GDL course.
The BSB proposed to scrap this, so vocational training providers would instead decide who should be admitted onto their courses.
Instead of requiring students to have a 2:2 degree, the training providers would decide whether a candidate was “ready to start the vocational training, taking into account a holistic view of their training, experience and academic record”.
The BSB said the changes, which would need the approval of the Legal Services Board (LSB), were intended to be implemented from September 2025.
Meanwhile, the SRA has proposed, in its own consultation, to stop qualified lawyers from being granted an exemption from parts of the SQE they had attempted and failed.
The SRA said that it had so far granted only one exemption from SQE 1 (the test of functioning legal knowledge) but around 3,500 exemptions from SQE 2 (the test of legal skills and knowledge).
The regulator said the combination of a new exemptions policy introduced in 2021 and a transitional qualified lawyers transfer scheme (QLTS) policy introduced as a result of the pandemic had highlighted risks that “we did not foresee”.
The SRA went on: “There are a number of possible situations in which someone might fail an assessment and subsequently apply for exemption.
“For example, where they had attempted SQE 2 before we had agreed that their original legal qualification could give them exemption from SQE 2. Or before they had sufficient work experience for us to determine that they should be granted an exemption.
“Alternatively, a qualified lawyer may attempt SQE2 before they become eligible to apply for an exemption due to the phasing out of the previous QLTS qualification route.”
In a separate consultation, the SRA proposed changes to its English or Welsh language proficiency requirements, so the language proficiency of qualified lawyers was checked before they are admitted as a solicitor, rather than when they apply for their first practising certificate.
The SRA said the current approach had resulted in some newly admitted solicitors being unable to gain a PC “because they could not provide evidence of their English language proficiency”.
The regulator would also no longer accept as evidence the award of any degree taught in English unless that degree was also the qualified lawyer’s professional legal qualification.