Lord Neuberger wants to see law taught as part of the national curriculum and external funding to be made available for pupillages as part of wide-reaching proposals to reform entry to the bar.
Last Tuesday (27 November) Neuberger’s working party published 57 recommendations for reform after working on the project for 14 months. The report urges wide-ranging measures to improve access for less well-off students “to level the playing field”.
The proposals are broadly consistent with the interim report that was published last April.
Neuberger’s group stood by its call for a bar loan scheme to be brought in on preferential terms to make it easier for those from less privileged backgrounds to have access to the bar.
The 220-page report’s more ambitious new proposals include a new law module in the personal social health education (PSHE) element of the national curriculum.
Neuberger told The Lawyer that members of the Bar Council have already initiated talks with the Government and that the discussions have been constructive.
The report added: “We remain confident that such a move should sit well within the current citizenship focus of the classes for pre-GCSE students.”
The working party has also called on the Bar Council to consider establishing a central coordinating role for education or an education and careers ambassador.
However, Neuberger conceded that this was a financially ambitious suggestion. “A full-time ambassador may cost £60,000 a year, which would perhaps be an extra £5 to each barrister, although this doesn’t even take into account travelling and other costs,” he said. “But £5 here and there adds up, which is why we’re aware of the cost implication on this particular issue.”
A further proposal that could have financial implications for the bar is the call for a pupillage clearing house, similar to that of Ucas.
The report states: “The Bar Council should devise and implement a clearing house system for pupillages to ensure that funded pupillage vacancies do not remain unfilled.”
Neuberger stated: “It’s simply ridiculous when there exists a shortage of pupillages that where there’s pupillages going begging they’re not filled. A system similar to Ucas would mean that any funded places wouldn’t be lost.”
One other radical proposal put forward by the working group would involve introducing external funding for pupillages from companies and government agencies.
“At the moment the discussions for this are at an extremely preliminary stage and, as we’ve unusually stated in the report, this may not fly, but it’s a good idea,” explained Neuberger. “It gives more pupillage opportunities and employers unable to train pupils themselves will have a good supply of barristers.”
In relation to the Bar Vocational Course (BVC), the 30-member group recommended that there should be no limit to the number of places, but applicants should be warned of their chances of gaining pupillage if they receive a 2:2 or worse.
Neuberger, however, said these suggestions should be taken in conjunction with two future BVC reports – one from the Bar Standards Board, which is chaired by Derek Wood QC of Falcon Chambers, and the Bar Council’s Wilson report, which will propose that there should be an option to convert the course into a master’s degree.
Chairman of the Bar Council Geoffrey Vos QC said the report was a tremendous step forward in the campaign to ensure that the bar is accessible.
“The Bar Council has commissioned many previous reports on this subject, but I believe, at last, that we have a plan containing effective, achievable solutions,” said Vos.
•other key recommendations
Recommendation 16: The Bar Council and Bar Vocational Course (BVC) providers should arrange matters so that BVC applicants know whether they have a pupillage offer before risking the loss of the deposit for the BVC.
Recommendation 19: Supports the Wilson report’s recommendation that the BVC should, where feasible, be delivered to a masters-level standard and that it should have the facility of being extended so it can lead to a master’s degree.
Recommendation 20: The BVC should be subject to a uniform final examination across all providers, set centrally and marked according to a centrally regulated and monitored standard.
Recommendation 24: There should be no specific limit on the number of those doing the BVC.
Recommendation 28: Depending on the results of the research, the Bar Standards Board should consider raising the entry requirement to the BVC to 2:1 degree standard.
Recommendation 30: A loan scheme should be set up to offer loans on preferential terms, alongside the Inns’ scholarship and awards scheme, to facilitate studying for, and entry to, the bar.
Recommendation 56: An access monitoring group should be established by the Bar Council to ensure that progress is made in implementing the recommendations.