Over 200 students due to sit exams for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) next month have written to the Bar Standards Board over the “inadequate” decision to postpone the tests until later this year.
The BSB said on Monday that it was postponing the exams until August, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The move affected the April sitting of centralised examinations (CEB) in civil litigation, criminal litigation and professional ethics.
In a letter seen by The Lawyer, students claim the delay is “an indeterminate one, kicking the can down the road rather than developing a substantive solution”.
They argue there is no certainty the problem will have resolved itself by August, with subsequent amendments having “negative knock-on consequences” for students. These include international students, who were not planning on being in the country for so long, as well as those set to start pupillages in September/October this year.
“If the situation remains the same in August and exams have to be postponed again, we will either have to sit exams alongside pupillage (an unreasonable, excessive, and avoidable burden on pupils) or will be unable to obtain our Provisional Practising Certificates in March / April 2021,” the letter states.
“Second, we will not have an opportunity to resit the exams, which is particularly problematic in light of the low number of students who pass all three CEB exams at the first attempt (approximately only 40 per cent in 2018-19, according to the CEB Chair’s Report).
“Third, many of us are likely to have to begin pupillage without knowing whether we have passed our exams, which is an unfair and implausible arrangement for both chambers and pupils. Fourth, it jeopardises call to the bar dates and other essential timetables.”
Other issues cited include students who were due to pick up jobs over the summer, who will now not be able to take on shifts due to the added burden of study, as well as those living in fixed accommodation that come to an end in the summer.
The students have urged the BSB to amend the format of the exams instead, suggesting that they could be assessed via a virtual test, using programmes such as Examplify.
They argue: “Alternative arrangements for exams have been shown to be eminently possible by the various universities which have already announced plans to make their exams online and/or remote.”
“There are creative solutions available. The BSB’s current proposal is not one of them,” the letter states.
The BSB said in a statement: “We are very conscious that this is an uncertain and worrying time for students but, at the current time, we have nothing further to add to the statement which we published earlier in the week.”