The Legal Services Board (LSB) has approved Bar Standards Board (BSB) proposals to introduce an aptitude test for prospective Bar students.
The Bar course aptitude test (BCAT) will be compulsory for entry to the Bar professional training course and set at a level that aims to weed out the bottom 10% of candidates.
The test, which has been four years in the making, should help other students, who the BSB says can be held back by poor-performing colleagues, and also stop those with little prospect of a career at the Bar spending money on the course.
In a decision published today, LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said the very fact that the test has not operated in practice, other than in limited pilots, means it is “impossible to verify in absolute terms” what impact it will have on issues such as diversity, and the number or competence of barristers.
“This uncertainly has a material impact on our ability to reach definitive conclusions, both about the impact in relation to individual regulatory objectives and better regulation duties, and our assessment of the broader impact on the overall public interest,” he said.
As a result, the LSB emphasised the importance of the BSB’s proposals for ongoing evaluation of the BCAT over the next five years, after which there will be a “positive decision to continue, revise, suspend or cease” it. Part of the BSB’s plans include making “a wide range of emerging data” publicly available throughout the process, to which the LSB said it attached “considerable importance”.
The LSB said the lack of currently available data meant it considered, but then rejected, issuing a warning notice, which would allow it to seek additional information and views from others. Under the Legal Services Act, the LSB can only refuse an application if there is clear evidence enabling it to be satisfied that refusal is justified.
Mr Kenny said: “The LSB considers that satisfactory implementation of these proposals for evaluation will ensure that both it and the BSB are in a far better position to reach a more rounded assessment of the desirability of the BCAT against the tests in the Act at that stage.
“It considers that facilitating such a form of experience-based evaluation would, on this occasion, be a more proportionate response than seeking further advice through the warning notice procedure, given the inevitable practical constraints on any views that can be offered at this stage.”
As a result, the LSB was not satisfied that there was any reason to refuse the application to introduce the test and so granted it.
A BSB spokeswoman said: “The BSB welcomes the LSB’s approval of the BCAT, being the outcome of several years’ work on this project. We look forward to working with a range of stakeholders over a five-year period to properly evaluate the impact of the test in support of the regulatory objectives, particularly in terms of seeking to encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.”
The BCAT will be in place from this September ahead of applications for the 2013 Bar professional training course opening in November. The application fee for the test will be about £67. All students will be told their scores, but the information will not be passed to course providers.