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.

Chambers and BSB entities should contact us if there are any significant outbreaks of COVID-19 in their practice and keep us informed if this impacts their ability to service clients.


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

The entity renewal process for 2020-21 is now complete. We are contacting any entities with outstanding issues individually. There are no delays to current processing deadlines for entities.

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 24 September 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.

Computer based exams were delivered in August and the majority of students sat them then either via online proctoring or in a Pearson VUE test centre. However, many students were affected by technical or other difficulties and were either unable to access their exams or to complete them. Our Director General apologised to students affected and on 11 September, we announced that course providers will be offering new opportunities to sit the centralised BPTC assessments in Professional Ethics and Civil and Criminal Litigation in the traditional pen and paper format on the following dates:

  • Professional Ethics – Monday 5 October 2020 2pm – 4.30pm
  • Civil Litigation – Wednesday 7 October 2020 2pm – 5pm
  • Criminal Litigation – Monday 12 October 2020 2pm – 5pm

Our Chair, Baroness Blackstone, also wrote a personal letter of apology about the August exams and this is being distributed to those affected. You can download a copy of the letter here.

The arrangements for sitting the examinations will be subject to strict adherence to whatever local coronavirus restrictions are applicable at the time. BPTC providers contacted their students with further details and students had until Monday 21 September to register for the October sit.

Further details about the October sitting are contained in our full 11 September announcement which is available here.

Please contact your course provider and not the BSB about your examination arrangements as we are not in a position to discuss these with individuals.

The definitive result for anyone taking centralised assessments in August and October will be whichever is the better performance from the August or October 2020 sit. Providers will release the Civil and Criminal Litigation results of the August 2020 sit on Monday 12 October and of the October 2020 sit on Friday 27 November 2020. They will release the Professional Ethics results of the August 2020 sit on Friday 6 November and of the October 2020 sit in the week commencing 18 January 2021 (Students should contact their Providers to confirm the precise date).

We have also scheduled a BPTC and BTT exam sitting in December 2020.

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.


Pupillages due to start in Autumn 2020

(Updated 20 August 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 and instead have sat their exams in August or plan to sit them in October or December.

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 on 6 November 2020 for those who took their exams in August, the week commencing 18 January 2021 for those who took their exams in October and late February / early March for those who will take their exams in December, and have 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 for updates in connection with our statement about examination arrangements between September and December.


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 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 were eligible to take the exams in August 2020, and were eligible for the October sit described above for BPTC students and outlined in our announcement of 11 September. Further information was given to these candidates by BPP. 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 October 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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