I was teaching at the Middle Temple students course in York this weekend. I was told that the BPTCs (all of them) were teaching the old, superseded, Code of Conduct as their “Ethics” course. Yep, that’s right – £17k to be taught something that does not apply. Apparently, because the exact format and content of the new Handbook wasn’t clear, it was decided that it was easiest to teach the old Code, which definitely wouldn’t apply when all of you qualified. Words just fail.
The BTPCs should be ashamed of themselves. Ethics should have been timetabled to start when the precise terms of the Handbook became clear. Space should have been made to do it. Defaulting to an easy, but irrelevant, position is unacceptable.
The BSB should have realised the difficulty and sorted it. Not much point regulating the profession unless you give a stuff about its students.
Meanwhile, BSB students please understand that the new Handbook changes a lot. Particularly, ethics questions about missing convictions for criminal clients are – under the old Code – answered by saying you can mitigate on the basis of the information presented by the Prosecution. That answer is now WRONG. For what it’s worth, I also think it’s wrong to say that you do have to tell the Judge there is a missing conviction – that is taking the duty to the Court as if it trumps the duty to the client. It doesn’t – both duties exist together. I think the right answer is to tell the Judge that they cannot rely on the Prosecution’s record, but to say no more than that. Other views welcome.
Barristers, please bear in mind that those interviewed who qualified in the year 2013-14 are not being taught the ethics that apply to the profession. Cut them some slack – and when you take them on, make sure that the first 6 months includes the ethics training for which they have already paid but have received no value whatever.
What have we come to? Perhaps the entities making money out of students could provide a percentage of it to offer more pupillages for the beleagured publicly funded Bar. Now, that would be robust regulation.
Alex Aldridge of Legal Cheek has got a quote from the BSB’s head of Education and Training, Simon Thornton-Wood, who says:
“In setting out the 2014 BPTC course, providers asked that the syllabus be agreed early in 2013. The development, review and approval process for course materials in a programme of this scale requires very careful advance planning. It was not until the Legal Services Board approved the new Handbook in July 2013 that there was any real certainty it would be coming into force this year.
“We’ve worked closely with both providers and students to make sure that, by the end of their BPTC, students know about the new Handbook – and the key changes it introduces – which will be fully reflected in next year’s syllabus and exams. That said, it is important to point out that the core principles of the professional ethics to which we expect barristers to adhere remain unchanged from previous years.”
Hmm. First, what’s the point in planning a course 9 months ahead knowing it would be wrong? The BSB regulates. Even if the BPTC providers asked for this, they don’t have to have it. We’ve been asking the BSB not to impose QASA but that hasn’t meant it’s rolled over to have its tummy tickled. Secondly, the core principles have altered in quite a large way in the eyes of a great many practitioners. Thirdly, we teach ethics not core principles. Fourthly, the prospect of the new handbook not coming into force this year have been remote and the BSB could have – *gasp* – made two plans: one if it did and one if it didn’t. Fifthly, plenty of the students on the course last week did not know of the new handbook or the changes and they aren’t being taught it. Otherwise, great quote.