Neuberger: Law needed on national curriculum

Lord Neuberger wants to see law taught as part of the national curriculum and external funding made available for pupillages as part of wide-reaching proposals to reform entry to the bar.

Neuberger’s working party today (27 November) published 57 recommendations for reform after working on the project for 14 months. The report urges wide-ranging measures to improve access for less well-off students, “to level the playing field”.

The proposals of the working party are broadly consistent with the interim report that was published last April.

Neuberger’s group stood by its call for a bar loan scheme to be brought in on preferential terms to make it easier for potential barristers from less-privileged backgrounds to have access to the bar.

The 220-page report’s more ambitious new proposals include a new law module in the personal social health education (PSHE) element of the national curriculum.

Neuberger told The Lawyer that members of the Bar Council have already initiated talks with the Government and that the discussions had been constructive.

The report added: “We remain confident that such a move should sit well within the current citizenship focus of the classes for pre-GCSE students.”

The working party has also called on the Bar Council to consider establishing a central co-ordinating role for education or an education and careers ambassador.

However, Neuberger conceded that this is a financially ambitious suggestion. “A full-time ambassador may cost £60,000 a year, which would perhaps be an extra £5 to each barrister, though this doesn’t even take into account travelling and other costs,” he said. “But £5 here and there adds up, which is why we’re aware of the cost implication on this particular issue.”

A further proposal that could have financial implications for the bar is the call for a pupillage clearing house similar to that of UCAS to be brought in.

The report stated: “The Bar Council should devise and implement a clearing house system for pupillages to ensure that funded pupillage vacancies do not remain unfilled.”

Neuberger told The Lawyer that having such as scheme may not “change the world” or “grab the headlines”, though he stressed that any funded pupillages should be utilised.

“It’s simply ridiculous when there exists a shortage of pupillages that where there’s pupillages going begging that they’re not filled,” said Neuberger. “A system similar to UCAS would mean that any funded places would not be lost.”

One other radical proposal put forward by the working group would involve introducing external funding for pupillages at the bar from companies and government agencies.

“At the moment the discussions for this are at an extremely preliminary stage and as we’ve unusually stated in the report this may not fly but it’s a good idea,” explained Neuberger. “It gives more pupillage opportunities and employers unable to train pupils themselves will have a good supply of barristers.”

In relation to the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) the 30-member group recommended that there should be no limit to the number of places but applicants should be warned of their chances of getting pupillage where they receive a 2:2 or worse.

Neuberger, however, said that these suggestions should be taken in conjunction with two future BVC reports – one from the Bar Standards Board (BSB) that is chaired by Derek Wood QC of Falcon chambers and the Bar Council’s Wilson report, which will propose that there should be an option to convert the course into a masters degree.

Geoffrey Vos QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, said that the report is a tremendous step forward in the campaign to ensure the bar is accessible to all.

“The Bar Council has commissioned many previous reports on this subject, but I believe, at last, that we have a plan containing effective achievable solutions,” said Vos.