Maintaining the Barrister-at-Law

It looks like the UK’s Bar Standards Boards will be rejecting the move towards deferral of the Call to the Bar.In a report on its provisional conclusions, the Board has concluded that “deferring call to the Bar until after pupillage would not be an appropriate response to the risk which it is intended to address.”

On the other hand, “the Board considers that deferring call would itself cause significant harm – in particular by making the process by which the degree of “barrister” is awarded less fair and transparent, and by deterring non-UK students from qualifying as English barristers, with the cultural, academic and economic benefits to the public interest which this brings.”

A final decision of the Board will be announced sometime in July.

The history regarding the deferral of Call has gone back decades, where there were calls to only allow a person to be Called to the UK Bar, and hence be awarded the title Barrister-at-law, after the completion of 6 months of pupilage. This is in contrast the the present system, and how I got Called to the UK Bar, where all that was required was the successful completion of the Bar Vocational Course (BVC), and you would then be able to be Called.

In the years 2004 and 2005, the move towards a deferral to Call started to gain momentum. A significant side-effect of deferral of Call until after the completion the pupilage, was that it would deprive hundreds of foreign students from being able to get Called to the Bar in their own jurisdiction. In Malaysia, our Legal Profession Act continues to recognise the title Barrister-at-Law, and it exempts a lawyer with the Barrister-at-Law qualification from having to sit for the CLP exam.

Many Malaysian students were therefore left in limbo at whether they could still sit for the BVC. Pupilage positions are extremely difficult to come by, especially if you are a foreign student. So the thought of having to sit for the BVC, and having no guarantee of securing pupilage, would have deterred a majority of Malaysians from sitting for the BVC.

I await confirmation of the rejection of the deferral of Call, but I have always been a staunch supporter of the BVC, and I feel that BVC graduates are a real asset to the Malaysian Bar in general.

I fully enjoyed my 3 years of academic study of the law during my LLB. But during my BVC year, it really opened up my eyes to what the practice of law really entailed. It was no longer studying and understanding academic concepts, or grasping basic principles such as offer, acceptance, and consideration, but the BVC involved learning how to conduct a conference with a client, standing on your feet to conduct cross-examination or to make submissions to the Judge, or drafting opinions to advise clients.

Some people may criticize the BVC for being too general, and it not really giving specific enough training to prepare the BVC graduate for real-life practice. I however, feel the generality of the BVC imparted very transferrable skills on me, which I now apply on an everyday basis in a different jurisdiction from the UK. I still adopt the basic style of my submissions from my BVC days in my present practice. The basic concepts I gleamed from examination-in-chief and cross-examination continue to be highly relevant in the trials conducted here. Just the other day, when having a phone conversation with a client, I was still drawing on my conference skills I learnt.

So I can’t recommend the BVC enough if any of you have the opportunity to study the course.

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