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.
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.
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).
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 affects their ability to service clients.
Authorisation to Practise process
We will be providing further information about the 2021-22 Authorisation to Practise process shortly.
Barristers’ Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements
Bar training students
(updated 5 January 2021)
The 2019/20 centralised BPTC and BTT examinations
In light of government advice about the health emergency we took the decision that the April 2020 sitting of the centralised BPTC and BTT examinations - ie the three subject areas of Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics that were then set and marked by the BSB - would not go ahead as planned.
Computer based exams were delivered in August 2020 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 would 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. These exams went ahead in October 2020.
Our Chair, Baroness Blackstone, also wrote a personal letter of apology about the August exams and this was distributed to those affected. You can download a copy of the letter here.
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 released the Civil and Criminal Litigation results of the August 2020 sit on Monday 12 October and the results of the October 2020 sit on Friday 27 November 2020. They released the Professional Ethics results of the August 2020 sit on Friday 6 November and will release the results of the October 2020 sit in the week commencing 18 January 2021 (Students should contact their Providers to confirm the precise date).
We also scheduled and ran in-person BPTC and BTT exam sittings in December 2020.
2021 Bar training exams
Bar training students are due to sit several exams in the first few months of 2021. There are some face-to-face assessments set by course providers – otherwise known as Authorised Education and Training Organisations (AETOs) - which as a result of the government’s announcement on 4 January may have to be rescheduled later in the year, and BSB-set centralised assessments in Criminal Litigation and Civil Litigation which are due to take place in the Spring. There will also need to be some BSB-set resits for BPTC and BTT students in Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics. AETOs are responsible for the running of all these exams including the 2021 centralised-exams, so it is their decision as to whether all or some of these exams are held as computer-based examinations.
In mid-December 2020, we issued guidance to all vocational AETOs to enable them to deliver both the AETO-set and the BSB-set centralised assessments online.
Under the guidance, AETOs can choose to use computer-based exams for their own provider-set assessments prior to the BSB-set assessments on a pilot basis, provided they have registered their intentions with us.
Any future computer-based assessments, including where necessary for the BSB-set centralised exams in Spring 2021 will require our formal approval in the light of lessons learned from pilots where they have taken place. All approvals will be subject to a satisfactory Equality Impact Assessment being undertaken by the AETO.
Students should contact their AETO – and not the BSB – about arrangements for their 2021 Bar training exams.
Pupillages that started in Autumn/Winter 2020/21 before BPTC and BTT results were available
(Updated 5 January 2021)
Given the exceptional circumstances, for individuals who did not know their BPTC or BTT result when their pupillage was due to start, we 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 was granted on a one-off basis to the 2019-20 cohort of students who were expecting to take their final BPTC or BTT assessments in Spring 2020 but were unable to because of changes to timetabled exams and assessments due to Covid-19 and instead sat their exams in August, October or December 2020. For these students, the BPTC and BTT results were released on 6 November 2020 for those who took their exams in August, and will be released in the week commencing 18 January 2021 for those who took their exams in October, and late February / early March for those who took their exams in December.
The waiver allows these students to progress to the non-practising period of pupillage with the agreement of their AETO. The AETO is required to assess the risks of allowing individual pupils to commence pupillage under these circumstances, with reference to our published guidance.
These pupils are not permitted to progress to the practising period of pupillage, nor are they 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 is 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).
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.
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 are taking on pupils from the 2019-20 cohort of BPTC students. We encourage you to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage and have provided guidance to you and to your pupils on the factors to consider when taking that decision.
Transferring Foreign Lawyers
Bar Transfer Test (BTT) candidates who had pupillage in England and Wales due to commence in autumn 2020 were 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.
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.
Requests for Review of an Authorisation Decision
We have published a set of frequently asked questions covering our position on a range of issues associated with requests for review of an authorisation decision.
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.
Following the government announcement on 4 January 2021, we have instructed our staff to work from home unless there is a strict business need for them to come to the office. We continue to have rigorous health protection measures in place in our offices for staff and visitors. 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 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.