Irish students mount exam challenge

Students in the Republic of Ireland who want to become solicitors are rebelling against a new Law Society rule which will require them to take an entrance exam before being admitted to its courses.

The case could prove a forerunner to a similar controversy in the UK, if president of the Law Society Martin Mears presses ahead with a pledge to impose an additional layer of tests for students trying to get on LPC courses.

Law graduates from the universities of Galway, Cork, Limerick, and Dublin's University College and Trinity College had been exempt from the Law Society's entrance exam.

But graduates from Queen's University in Belfast, who were not exempt, took an action in the Irish High Court last year, claiming discrimination.

They lost their case but the High Court ruled that the regulation was invalid because no one was entitled to an exemption. The society subsequently amended its rules.

The Irish High Court has given the students the go-ahead to test the amended rule in the courts by judicial review. The action is being taken against the Incorporated Law Society and the Irish Attorney General.

Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society of Ireland, denies any attempts to limit numbers entering the profession. “The society views it as essential to the public interest that solicitors whom the society qualifies to practise law have an acceptable and consistent level of knowledge and understanding of the 'core' Irish subjects,” he said.

One of the election promises Mears made was for the introduction of measures to limit the numbers of new recruits to the profession.

And he has promised to press ahead with plans to look into the possibility of imposing “an additional layer of tests” if he is elected for a second term.

Simon Baker, Law Society training committee chair, opposes Mears' plan. “This case in Ireland proves we live in a world in which consumers demand free, fair and open markets,” he said.

“If those in authority try to restrict the opportunity for competition they should expect to be challenged.”

Vice-chair of the Law Society's Trainee Solicitors Group Declan Cushley said: “In England there is a direct correlation between past academic records and performance. Such tests are therefore unnecessary.”