Junior lawyers call for SQE inquiry
The chair of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has called for an inquiry or evidence session because of serious concerns about the approval of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). In an open letter to the Justice Select Committee, JLD chair Amy Clowrey said there is “a plethora of issues still to be resolved”. She has formally asked the Justice Committee to hold an evidence session or a short inquiry to review the decision of the Legal Services Board (LSB) to approve the introduction of the SQE. She said the JLD agrees in principle with a standard centralised examination but expressed concerns that professional standards will be lowered after the SQE is introduced, which “will be detrimental to users of legal services and damage the reputation of the profession both domestically and internationally”. The JLD is also concerned about other elements of the SQE including the removal of the requirement to study substantive academic law.
A CASE FOR REFUSAL?
The JLD believes that the Legal Services Act 2007 criteria for refusing the SRA’s application for the SQE have not been met; particularly that solicitors “will not be equipped to maintain proper standards of work and will therefore fail to promote and adhere to the professional principles”. In her letter, Clowrey also raised the “unresolved question” of the cost to qualify and related concerns about a negative social mobility impact. Clowrey said: “Given the strength, breadth and nature of opposition to the SRA’s SQE application, the JLD is concerned to ensure the refusal criteria are considered and applied appropriately.” The JLD is the latest organisation to express reservations about the SQE. There is widespread concern that its introduction would be contrary to the public interest, not in consumers’ interests and would lead to lower professional standards. The SQE is on course for final implementation by 2021 but first, the LSB will need to approve a further application from the SRA. The JLD said an independent body is needed to assess the decision-making processes being undertaken.