The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given the green light to the introduction of the controversial Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) for aspiring barristers.
The new test will be compulsory for entry to the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and requires prospective students to achieve a minimum required standard as specified by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
In the decision notice published today, LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said that the impact of the test on issues such as diversity and on the number or competence of authorised persons is “impossible to verify in absolute terms at this stage by the very fact that the test has not operated in practice, other than in limited pilot circumstances”.
He added: “This uncertainty 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.”
The news follows the Law Society warning against the viability of the BCAT in March 2012, where it questioned its implementation prior to the conclusion of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) (6 March 2012).
The Society’s concerns came after the BSB standards-monitoring report 2010-11 published in January threw doubt on whether the BCAT was fit for purpose (10 January 2012).
Due to the level of “uncertainty”, the LSB has asked the BSB to commit to undertake a five-year data gathering, analysis and evaluation period. Following the conclusion of this, a formal review will take place with a decision to “continue, revise, suspend or cease the BCAT”.
In a statement a BSB spokesperson said: “The BSB welcomes the LSB’s approval of the Bar Course Aptitude Test, 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 September 2012 ahead of applications opening for the 2013 BPTC. The application fee for the test will be about £67.