SRA moves language checks to point of admission

Language proficiency: Earlier checks

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is going ahead with plans to move its English or Welsh language proficiency checks from the point where solicitors apply for the first practising certificates to the point of admission.

The SRA board has also decided to stop allowing qualified lawyers who fail part of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) to apply later for exemptions from it.

The regulator launched a consultation in December last year on language checks for qualified lawyers who seek exemptions from SQE2 and a further consultation on SQE exemptions where exams had been failed.

The board last month accepted moving the point at which English or Welsh language proficiency checks were made from the application for a first practising certificate to the point of admission.

The consultation said the current approach had resulted in some newly admitted solicitors being unable to gain a certificate “because they could not provide evidence of their English language proficiency”.

Where a lawyer had used a qualification assessed in English or Welsh to seek exemption from SQE2, that could be accepted as evidence of language proficiency.

However, the SRA would no longer accept as evidence the award of “any degree” taught in English or Welsh, unless that degree was also the lawyer’s professional legal qualification.

The regulator changed only one of the proposals it consulted on. This would have removed the requirement that a secure English language test (SELT) certificate, or equivalent, must have been issued within two years of the date submitted for admission purposes.

SELTs are used by the Home Office for visa and immigration applications. The standard needed for SRA admission applications is a score equivalent to at least 7.5 on the International English Language Testing System.

The SRA said that removing the two-year rule would have meant certificates had to be accepted where test providers considered them to be valid.

“Although the evidence is not conclusive, there is some research which suggests second language ability declines exponentially after three years, if the language is not used.

“Because we are not in a position to know how much a person continues to learn and use English after taking a test, we believe it remains necessary to impose an expiry date for language certificates.

“Given the evidence, on balance, we believe we should take assurance about language proficiency from certificates that were issued no more than three years previously. This would strike the right balance between our need for such assurance and the potential burden on candidates of having to retest.”

On exemptions from the SQE, the SRA said that under its existing policy, lawyers could “attempt and fail a component of the SQE and subsequently apply for, and be granted, an exemption from that assessment”.

The policy did not allow staff at the regulator to “take into account evidence that they have previously failed the assessment when considering their exemption application”.

The SRA said most respondents to the consultation agreed with ending this.

The changes now require final approval from the Legal Services Board.

The regulator said it had received 20 responses to the consultation on language testing and six responses to the second.

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