17 Mar 2020

We are issuing this statement to outline what we are doing in response to COVID-19.

The Bar Council and the COVID-19 Working Group have also been issuing helpful guidance to the profession which you can find here

LawCare has a range of resources for staying mentally healthy during the pandemic on their website.

This statement will be kept under review and updated as necessary so please refer to our website for the latest information rather than calling or emailing us. We have limited resources and do not have the capacity to respond quickly to a large number of enquiries.


The Handbook

We know that barristers will continue to do everything they can to serve the interests of their clients and we should like to make clear that following Government or Public Health England guidance is not of course a breach of the BSB Handbook. However, you should ensure that you comply with any relevant obligations arising from following that guidance, particularly your duties to the court and your clients (e.g. if you need to cease to act or return instructions, you should clearly explain to your client or solicitor the reasons for doing so). 

More generally, the BSB Handbook also permits you to cease to act and return instructions if there is another substantial reason for doing so (Rule C26.8). As you are personally responsible for your own conduct and your professional work, in deciding whether you have another substantial reason for returning instructions you must use your own professional judgment and be able to justify your decisions and actions (Rule C20). The Bar Council’s Ethical Enquiries Service is available to assist barristers with their professional obligations under the BSB Handbook:. If you decide to return instructions, you should again ensure that you comply with any relevant obligations, particularly your duties to the court and your clients (e.g. you should clearly explain to your client or solicitor the reasons for doing so).


Practice management

Chambers/entities and barristers will need to consider the impact of the Government advice and the restrictions on travel and social contact on the management of their practices. Chambers/entities should also consider how any pupils should be supported whilst the restrictions are in place and how they will maintain contact with clients. In relation to their employees, all chambers/entities should follow the Government guide for employers which can be found here.


The 2020 Authorisation to Practise process

(First published 20 March. Last updated 31 March)

In view of the current coronavirus/COVID-19 measures the Authorisation to Practise process is being extended so that all remaining barristers who have yet to pay their Practising Certificate Fee now have until 31 May to do so. Those who wish to delegate the payment to their administrators should complete the process by midnight on Friday 15 May.

Additionally, an option has been introduced of a two-staged payment process for those chambers which have still to pay their set’s fees in a "block" payment. This new measure will give any set of chambers yet to pay this year’s “block” payment, the flexibility to pay 50% of the fee by 31 May 2020 and the remaining 50% by 31 October 2020. This staging of payments only applies to “block” payments by chambers and, for technical reasons, cannot be made available to individual PCF payments through MyBar.

To help ease the financial burden for everyone, the intention is to introduce a universal PCF payment instalment scheme in time for the 2021-22 AtP process and for subsequent years.


Entities

(First published 7 April. Last updated 14 April)

The entity renewal deadline has been extended from 6 April 2020 to 31 May 2020. If paying in instalments would assist an entity at this time, please contact authorisations@barstandardsboard.org.uk so that this can be arranged. We have published some related FAQS.


Barristers’ Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements

On Friday 20 March, we published some FAQs for barristers worried about their ability to meet their CPD requirements during the current period. You can access the FAQs here


Bar training students

(updated 1 July 2020)

In light of government advice about the health emergency we took the decision that the April sitting of the centralised BPTC and BTT examinations - ie the three subject areas of Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics that are currently set and marked by the BSB - would not go ahead as planned.

The next scheduled opportunity to take the centralised exams is in August 2020 and we have now announced that these will be computer-based examinations. The exams will be delivered using Pearson VUE’s OnVUE secure global online proctoring solution and its global network of physical test centres This will enable students and transferring qualified lawyers to sit the exams in August.

We have now published a detailed candidates’ guide to taking the centralised assessments in August.

Please do not contact us about your examination arrangements as we are not in a position to discuss these with individuals. BPTC/BTT providers have all been given clear instructions about how to advise students. Contacting us will only delay us in the work we need to do to deliver the exams. Thank you.

We have signed a contract with Pearson VUE to deliver the August assessments via OnVUE, its online proctoring solution and at its network of test centres.

OnVUE uses a combination of artificial intelligence and live monitoring to ensure the exam is robustly guarded, deploying sophisticated security features such as face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown and recordings.

Such robust security measures provide assurance to students (both past and present), the profession, and the public who will rely on the services provided by these future barristers, that the 2020 cohort of BPTC graduates will have been assessed to as high a standard as those in previous years as they will have taken the exams that they were intended to take in a secure environment. The revised arrangements are fully supported and endorsed by the BPTC providers.

The centralised exams will take place on the following dates:

  • 11, 12, 13 and 14 August - Professional Ethics
  • 17 and 18 August - Civil Litigation
  • 20 and 21 August - Criminal Litigation

Students will receive instructions for sitting the exams from their BPTC or BTT provider from Wednesday 1 July, so it is very important for them to look out for communications from their provider.

The exams can be sat remotely or at an extensive network of Pearson VUE’s physical test centres around the world (subject to local health and safety guidance and prevailing restrictions at the time of the exams). Providers are in discussion with students requiring reasonable adjustments.

Any student whose needs we assess as being best met in a test centre will not need to take their exam remotely via the OnVUE solution. Breaks, for example, will be permitted in test centres. Indeed, test centre bookings will be available more widely, depending on students’ other needs. Priority will be given to those who require reasonable adjustments or who have a specific need to take their exams in a test centre, however, and others may not always be able to attend the test centre nearest to them. Pearson VUE has the largest and most widely available network of local centres in the UK and globally. Please refer to the candidates’ guide for further information.

Civil and Criminal Litigation results will be made available to students via their providers on Friday 9 October. This is a month earlier than previously announced. This means anyone due to start a pupillage in October should only be awaiting their Professional Ethics result – which will be made available on Friday 6  November - by the time they start their pupillage.

We have scheduled a new BPTC and BTT exam sitting in December 2020 to enable students, where necessary, to resit any of the centralised assessments.

Since the current health emergency began, we have been very conscious of the need to support both the safety and career prospects of this year’s cohort of Bar students and prospective pupils. Students and transferring qualified lawyers have had to face considerable uncertainty, which we very much regret, and we are delighted that we will be able to deliver the centralised assessments in August.

The BCAT remains an entry requirement for the vocational component of Bar training. Whilst it was not possible for students intending to start the new vocational Bar training courses in September to take the test from when the UK lockdown was introduced in March until 28 May, it reopened for registrations on 29 May. The BCAT should now be taken by anyone who has not already taken it. It can be taken via OnVUE, Pearson VUE’s online proctoring solution, or at a test centre where these are available around the world. To register to take the BCAT, please visit: https://home.pearsonvue.com/bsb

We have published some FAQs for current BPTC students, those intending to start the vocational component of Bar training in September, and current BTT students. You can read the latest version of these FAQs online.

Following the publication of our announcement on 13 May, we are receiving a high volume of queries from students. The BSB is unable to respond to individuals at this time but you may find the answer to your question in our candidates’ guide or in our FAQs which you can find here.

Please do not contact the BSB but watch this website and look out for messages from your provider and Inn of Court. Details of arrangements for non-centralised examinations (ie those set and marked by Bar training providers) will be given to students by their Bar training providers.

Pupillages due to start in Autumn 2020

There is understandable concern about the impact of the Covid-19 situation on those who are due to commence pupillage in autumn 2020.

Most of those due to start a pupillage this autumn have already passed their BPTC. However, typically around a third sit the BPTC in the year that they start pupillage.

Given the exceptional circumstances and the fact that they will not know their BPTC or BTT result when their pupillage is due to start, for these individuals this year, we have waived the usual requirement that only those who have been confirmed as having successfully passed a BPTC or BTT may start the non-practising period of pupillage.

The waiver is granted on a one-off basis to this year’s cohort of students who were expecting to take their final BPTC or BTT assessments this spring but were unable to because of changes to timetabled exams and assessments due to Covid-19.

The waiver allows these students to progress to the non-practising period of pupillage with the agreement of their AETO. The AETO will be required to assess the risks of allowing individual pupils to commence pupillage under these circumstances, with reference to our published guidance.

These pupils will not be permitted to progress to the practising period of pupillage, nor be eligible to apply for a provisional practising certificate, until they have successfully completed their vocational training and required Qualifying Sessions, and been Called to the Bar.

If a pupil fails to complete the BPTC or BTT satisfactorily, it will be for the AETO to determine whether they are willing to continue to fund the pupil through an extended non-practising period of pupillage. The AETO will need to consider, in line with our guidance, how long they are prepared to continue funding the pupil and extending the non-practising period, and address it in the written pupillage agreement (which is now a mandatory requirement).

We are encouraging pupillage providers to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage pending the release of the BPTC and BTT results in early November and on 13 May, published guidance to them on the factors to consider when taking that decision. 

Although the current lockdown may affect the number of pupillages which can be offered, we hope that as many as possible will remain available.

So that we can direct our resources in the most efficient way, rather than calling us, please continue to monitor this webpage, where we will be providing more information as our planning progresses.


Pupils and chambers / Authorised Education Training Organisations (AETOs) providing pupillages

We have published a set of FAQs covering our position on a range of issues associated with the administration, supervision and training of those currently undertaking pupillage.

Please read the information for Bar Training students above, which we hope may be useful for AETOs that plan to take on pupils from this year’s cohort of BPTC students. We encourage you to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage pending the release of the BPTC results in early November and on 13 May, and have provided guidance to you and to your pupils on the factors to consider when taking that decision.

If our FAQs do not answer your question, chambers and AETOs can contact us via the email ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk


Transferring Foreign Lawyers

All Bar Transfer Test (BTT) candidates who were registered to take the Test in the April 2020 sit are eligible to take the exams in August 2020. Further information will be given to these candidates by BPP. The centralised exams (Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics) will be computer-based exams available as remote proctored exams or in a Pearson VUE testing centre in line with the information provided to BPTC students above and within our candidates' guide. BTT Candidates who have pupillage in England and Wales due to commence in autumn 2020 will be permitted to commence that pupillage whilst waiting for their BTT results, subject to the agreement of their AETO. Read more in our FAQs about pupillage and COVID-19.

Under the current circumstances there will be no new BTT registrations permitted in August 2020. There will, however, be an additional sit arranged in December 2020.

Any BTT candidates who have reached the two-year limit within which they are authorised to take the Test can apply to the Authorisations team for an extension of time. Read more in our FAQs for transferring lawyers.

Our frequently asked questions also cover our position on a range of issues associated with transferring foreign lawyers.

If our FAQs do not answer your question, you can contact us via the email ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk


Requests for Review of an Authorisation Decision 

On Tuesday 14 April, we published a set of frequently asked questions covering our position on a range of issues associated with requests for review of an authorisation decision.

If our FAQs do not answer your question, you can contact us via the email ROD_contingency_planning@barstandardsboard.org.uk.


Anti-Money laundering

We have worked together with other legal sector supervisors under the Money Laundering Regulations to publish joint guidance to manage risks arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.


The BSB

Our offices have now reopened with strict health protection measures in place for staff and visitors. For the time being, most of our staff continue to work from home. We are collecting visitors’ contact details in order to comply with the Government’s guidance on “test and trace”. You can read more about this in this Privacy statement.

We aim to continue to provide a “business-as-usual” service to barristers, students and members of the public. Our staff have access to systems to work from home but we are a relatively small organisation and you may experience a delay in dealing with your query if key staff are affected.

As our staff are all mostly working at home, it may take longer than usual for items such as original certificates to reach us. Please post your mail to our usual High Holborn address and our internal redirection arrangements will ensure that it reaches the correct members of our team.  

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