SRA creates storm over foreign lawyers’ requalification test

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has extended its consultation period for the qualified lawyers transfer test (QLTT), delaying the controversial interim measures that were due to come into force on 1 March.

The SRA’s education and training committee met on 5 February and initiated yet another eight-week consultation into the suitability of the interim measures. The SRA believes that a final decision will be likely in April.

“We received very few responses to the initial consultation on the interim measures, with three from City firms and a few from education providers,” explains an SRA spokesperson. “The committee therefore felt it was necessary to conduct another consultation in which we’ll actively seek responses from black and minority ethnic solicitor and consumer groups.”

The SRA was planning to bring in the interim measures while it undertakes a full two-year review of the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Regulations 1990.

The College of Law brought the matter to public attention last Monday (www.the lawyer.com, 4 February), when it revealed it had instructed Rabinder Singh QC of Matrix Chambers on the matter.

Currently, lawyers qualified in foreign jurisdictions need only pass the SRA exams to join the English roll. The interim measures would have required lawyers to also practise under English law for at least one year, but Singh claims this is potentially in breach of both the Race Relations Act and the Competition Act.

College of Law chief executive Nigel Savage says it is comparatively easy for Western lawyers to work in English law jurisdictions as they have offices in these areas or can afford to spend time in the UK. “This is less so for, say, young lawyers from Nigeria, India or China, where fewer students are recruited by City firms,” says Savage, thus making the measures anticompetitive and discriminatory against black and minority ethnics.

The College of Law’s move sparked debate on www.thelawyer.com.

Harinder Bhullar writes: “The proposal of the SRA is totally vague and smells of discrimination between developed and developing countries. Apart from the race issue, this is anticompetitive in nature and falls under Article 81 (1) EU. This proposal needs to be scrapped immediately.”

Agreeing with Bhullar’s position, one web user writes: “This goes to show a growing fear about the determination and success of lawyers/solicitors from outside the English soil.

“This is equivalent to asking the QLTT candidates to go through another degree programme in an English university before they can be deemed fit to practise.”

Those opposing the interim measures may see the extension of the consultation period as a victory.

The SRA spokesperson, however, says that is not the case and that there will be interim measures put in place, adding: “The measures are critical to the full review of the QLTT as they may assist in focusing on where reform is needed.”

The purpose of the full review is to ensure that those who qualify have “the knowledge and skills required for practising as a solicitor of England and Wales”, adds the spokesperson.

Opponents to the interim measures do agree that a full review is needed, but as Savage says: “If the suggested interim measures are to come into force in their present form, it could have a disastrous effect on recruitment to the London legal market.”