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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Non-Welsh SQE will compound access to justice problem

Non-Welsh SQE will compound access to justice problem


The issue of access to justice in Wales will be compounded if the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is not offered in Welsh, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) said.

The issue of access to justice in Wales will be compounded if the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is not offered in Welsh, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) said.

Writing to the Welsh Language Commissioner Aled Roberts, outgoing chair of the JLD Amy Clowrey criticised what seemed to be the decision of the SRA not to offer the SQE in Welsh for the time being.

She said the lack of a Welsh SQE compounds the problem of “access to justice in Wales more generally when coupled with, for example, court closures requiring lawyers and clients to attend non-Welsh speaking courts which are much further afield”.

The JLD said as a result, the introduction of the SQE will have a “significant impact on a large proportion of our [70,000] members (and future members)”.

Previously, the regulator said it would offer the SQE in Welsh if it could ensure comparability of standards between the English and Welsh versions and the cost of producing a Welsh version was not exorbitant.

The JLD said it was prepared to work with the Welsh Language Commissioner on this issue.

In a separate letter, the JLD has written to the chair of the Justice Select Committee (JSC) with a range of concerns, particularly that the SQE will dilute the standard of the solicitor qualification by moving away from an academic, essay-based means of assessing legal knowledge.

It said this will make England and Wales less appealing as the jurisdiction of choice post-Brexit and affect the reputation of our legal industry.

The JLD pointed to serious concerns already raised by firms and educators in the legal sector including Liverpool John Moores University, Linklaters and Clyde & Co particularly in relation to the multiple choice question (MCQ) testing.

Oxford University, for instance, said in its response to the SRA’s 2016 SQE consultation that MCQ testing is “of no value in determining whether an individual would be able to give competent advice in situations in which the law is unclear…[this] can only be judged through more sophisticated forms of testing in which the candidate is permitted to explore the problem at length in writing”.

The JLD called for detailed scrutiny by the JSC and stakeholders, saying that on the evidence the current part one format is “not fit for purpose and that it presents a clear risk to the reputation of the profession if introduced”.

A major change has been made to part one following the results of the pilot, yet further pilots are not anticipated.

The JLD expressed “major concern” that the first time the revised part one will be tested will be when it goes ‘live’.

It also warned of the likely adverse impact on social mobility and diversity in the profession if the SQE in its present form is introduced; and warned of a significant impact on access to the profession.

It cited concerns already raised by firms and legal educators that non-law students, BAME students and those with disabilities could be disadvantaged.

The JLD called on the JSC to timetable a short evidence session or a short inquiry to address its concerns.

Clowrey stepped down today as JLD chair. Charlotte Parkinson, a litigation solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard, is the new chair.