Judge attacks barristers without law degrees

A HIGH Court judge has launched a fierce attack on the practice of letting barristers without law degrees “loose on the public” after taking an “elementary” conversion course and a one-year Bar course.

Delivering the Chancery Bar Association's spring lecture – during which he also attacked the “extravagant” fees charged by some leading QCs – Mr Justice Lightman said the conversion route to qualification was like allowing “a person who studied O Level biology and had a good bedside manner” to practise as a doctor.

“Broadly speaking, entrants to the Bar fall into two categories: those who studied law at university and those who did not,” he said.

“For those who did not, preparation for practice consists of a one-year law conversion course – a broad elementary education in core subjects – and a one-year Bar Vocational Course which concentrates very much on practical skills such as interviewing clients.

“How this education can qualify a barrister to be let loose on the public defeats me.”

He added that the current drive to promote continuing education “affords little further reason for confidence”.

He said: “Adopting the language and logic of Alice in Wonderland, “how can I have continuing education when I have yet to be educated?'”

Currently over a quarter of all new barristers qualify by taking the one year law conversion course (CPE) and the subsequent one-year Bar Vocational Course after a non-law degree.

The judge's attack was rejected as unfounded by Nigel Bastin, head of education and training at the Bar Council.

He described CPE students as “almost invariably very talented” and pointed out that they had proven intellectual abilities, doing “as well, if not better” than students with a law degree on the Bar Vocational Course.