Third SQE consultation opts for single assessment organisation
SRA to start procurement process in first quarter of 2018
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has formally kick-started the introduction of the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination with the publication of a draft statutory instrument setting out a new framework for the admission of solicitors in England and Wales.
The draft admission regulations are part of a third consultation based on a September 2020 go-live date for SQE, which the SRA has decided will be delivered by a single assessment organisation. The regulator had earlier left the door open as to whether it would involve more than one.
‘We’ll be going out to procurement to find an assessment partner for SQE in February or March next year  and then work with this partner on the phasing in of the new system,’ policy director Crispin Passmore told Solicitors Journal.
The move follows the SRA’s board meeting on Wednesday (31 May 2017) where chief executive Paul Philip further clarified the regulator’s publication policy in respect of the responses to the second SQE consultation.
The SRA unveiled its final plans for the new exam at the end of April after holding a second consultation.
It was criticised by legal academics a few weeks later for claiming it had ‘general support’ while failing to publish all the responses to the consultation.
‘Our particular concerns relate to the disingenuous reporting of the consultation responses by the SRA,’ said the Association of Law Teachers. ‘The SRA indicates that 253 responses were received to their consultation but only 148 are included in the published responses.’
Yesterday, Philip repeated the SRA’s clarification at the time, that not all respondents to the consultation had given permission for their responses to be made public.
‘For the avoidance of doubt, we have pointed out that we published all consultation responses, except those where the respondents had asked for their response to be kept confidential, and that we have been open about the resistance to our proposals and the wide range of views,’ he said.
In a further demonstration of willingness to engage, the third SQE consultation offers reassurances about the next stage in the process, saying experts, academics, universities and the profession will be consulted.
The main items on the agenda will be the number and type of multiple choice questions selected to assess candidates’ technical knowledge of the law in SQE stage 1, and how to best test their working knowledge of the law in practice in SQE stage 2.
These are expected to raise renewed controversy, with academics and practitioners already concerned about whether the new approach will reliably test legal reasoning and drafting.
As to the new admission rules themselves, they confirm that the SRA will not require prospective solicitors to have a law degree, despite the Bar deciding in March to retain this as a minimum requirement.
‘We’ve had discussions with the Legal Services Board and the Bar about this and this won’t change our decision not to require candidates to have a law degree,’ said Passmore.
The draft regulations also crystallise the two-stage process for admission – an exam testing candidates’ academic knowledge (SQE1) and another assessing their practical legal skills (SQE2) – and the requirement for a minimum of two years’ work experience with no more than four separate employers.
Candidates with relevant experience may be exempt on an ad hoc basis if the SRA is satisfied that their qualification or experience demonstrate they have acquired the prescribed competences.
The satisfactory character and suitability test will remain, with applicants being assessed at the point of admission.
The SRA will consult separately on transitional provisions later this year.
Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief at Solicitors Journal