Students on the Bar Professional Training Course have voiced their anger after technical problems derailed their first online exam.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the BSB delayed certain BPTC exams until August then, following an outcry from students, announced the exams would be take place online instead. The delivery method chosen to allow students to sit the exam remotely was Pearson VUE’s OnVUE secure global online proctoring system.

Then in July, students with disabilities set to take exams online expressed their dismay after providers emailed them at short notice, leaving only 24 hours for them to decide whether to agree to take the exams in a testing centre, with no guarantee their special requirements would be catered for.

Now, reports have emerged revealing that the OnVUE system collapsed during the ethics exam, the first to be taken online, with students taking to social media to voice their anger.

“My exam shut down before I could begin it,” wrote Asif Khawaja on Twitter. “I also had a brief chat with the proctor. Upon his late reply I asked what is it taking him so long. He said there was a technical problem. When I was about to start the exam software restarts and then shuts down.”

Another student wrote: “As soon as I started the signing in process, my computer lost connection. I had 20 minutes of the screen being completely black, they had to call me to fix it so i was on the phone / confused while the clock of the exam was running.”

Meanwhile other students complained of having to urinate in bottles because the delivery system would not allow them to leave their desks.

Qualified barristers have voiced their support for the students affected.

“This shames our profession,” wrote 9 St John Street’s Jamie Hill. “Bar students, that’s future barristers and judges, being treated with such contempt is appalling.”

Barrister Ian Brownhill of 39 Essex Chambers has offered to represent affected students pro bono, while Outer Temple Chambers’ Daniel Barnett is hosting a Zoom call to discuss the problems with students.

In a statement, the BSB said a “small number of students” were affected.

It stated: “Pearson VUE is responsible for delivering the examinations and we understand that nearly all students’ exams taking place today were completed successfully.

“Pearson VUE is highly committed to responding to students’ concerns in a timely fashion. The automatic response email to general inquiries reflects a three-to-five day waiting time, however all concerns – especially urgent concerns – are always addressed as quickly as possible.

“There were a small number of students affected by technical issues that have prevented them from accessing their exams.

“Pearson VUE has or will be rearranging their exam to take place on another scheduled sitting date subject to availability. Students who have accessed the exam but experienced a technical failure during the course of it will be allowed to defer to December without penalty if they have not successfully completed enough of the exam to achieve a pass.”

“All students sitting their exams in test centres can visit the lavatory. Students who opted to take the exams at home using Pearson VUE’s online remote proctoring system, in which they are invigilated remotely, have been provided with straightforward guidance which makes clear that, to protect the integrity of the exams – in the absence of a secure location and invigilators who are physically present – those taking the exam via online proctoring are not allowed to leave the room during the exam. Our guide therefore urges students to ‘prepare yourself for not being able to leave the room for the duration of your exam, for example by going to the toilet as close to the start of the exam as possible’.”