The COVID-19 outbreak has caused difficulties across the educational sphere, including those studying the Bar Exams. Pupil barrister Shaylla Shabbir examines the current situation for students studying for the bar.
A number of law schools across the country have cancelled all face to face teaching in the wake of Covid-19.
BAR STANDARDS BOARD GUIDELINES
This comes after the Bar Standards Board (BSB) postponed a number of Bar exams for the Bar Professional Training Course due to the pandemic. The BSB have said that their decision is:
“In light of the government statement about the latest measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 we have taken the decision that the April sit of the centralised BPTC and BTT examinations – i.e. the three subject areas of Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics that are currently set and marked by the BSB – will not go ahead as planned.
“This is consistent with the advice about travel and social distancing. The next scheduled opportunity to take the centralised exams will be August 2020 but we will need to keep this under review as the situation develops.”
August is usually reserve period for retake examinations, but due to current circumstances, it will now be a ‘potential’ period in which all examinations will likely take place.
CONCERNS FOR BPTC STUDENTS
Though this is an inevitable consequence given the governments approach to the virus, it will be of concern to many BPTC student enrolled on full-time courses across the country. We must also acknowledge that on average 45% of a BPTC student cohort are international students as well, which means that many international students will also be affected by this.
THE IMPACT ON BAR STUDENTS
The impact on Bar students is therefore very uncertain at this stage. Due to the nature of a number of Bar exams, physical presence is of upmost importance for the benefit of the student and the assessor. For instance, an advocacy exam with a cross-examination exercise would be significantly hampered if done via skype or other means. Law schools across the country, including City Law School, BPP and University of Law have confirmed that that course materials will be available on the online platforms and they are working on alternative means to move examinations online. There is no clear idea as to how these exams may be moved to an online platform, however, it is likely that this may follow the process which is in place for the Bar aptitude test.
Certainly, one of the main concerns for students will be when would results be released, and when prospective retakes would take place if all exams were moved to August. In the event a student was to fail an exam – when would the student be able to retake the exam/s bearing in mind two important considerations; namely, giving the student time to prepare for the re-examination, but also in the case of some students, allowing them to resit and then providing results prior to the commencement of pupillage, usually in or around September.
NO QUALIFYING SESSIONS
Furthermore, the Inns of courts have ceased holding qualifying sessions till the end of March. If this is to be extended then this would also mean that students will not be able to be called to the Bar until the requite 12 qualifying sessions are completed.
THE BEST ADVICE: CARRY ON AS BEST YOU CAN
The advice at the moment is therefore to continue as usual as far as this is possible. All Bar Course providers have an online platform, and materials are available online. The providers have adopted virtual teaching which will be closely monitored for attendance. In order to promote uniformity across all providers of the BPTC, it is likely that the BSB will be liaising with providers to ascertain the best course of action to adopt for the purposes and teaching and examining students in light of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In terms of international students from overseas there are many questions about sponsorship and attendance requirements. Providers are working with the regulator and will provide additional advice in the upcoming days.