Possibility of Judicial Review Following High Failure Rates on BPTC Ethics Module

Hundreds of students unexpectedly failed the Bar Professional Training Course ethics module raising concerns among the students and the course providers. The BPTC is a postgraduate course which allows graduates to be named and practice as Barristers in England and Wales.

Ethics module is centrally set by the Bar Standards Board with students from all the providers taking the same exam. It is pertinent to mention here that students were assessed on a brand new Code of Conduct.

The cause of the disastrous result was a series of short answer questions which according to students and one senior BPTC academic were worded in a baffling way.  Failure to perform well on the short answer question of the ethics exam results in an automatic fail on the overall ethics paper. It is mandatory for students to pass all the modules to successfully complete the BPTC.  All the failed students will be required to re-appear later this summer.

Furthermore, they will be excluded, from achieving the top classification of outstanding as it is now only available to those who pass first time.

Since the results were announced, an email has been circulating that was sent by directors of one of the providers that describes the ethics paper short questions as “not a fair assessment instrument”. The email, which was sent in response to desperate students pleas for help to launch legal action against the BSB, goes on to advise on the taking of legal advice before initiating a judicial review (JR), or any other challenge of the body’s decision not to intervene.

There are several possibilities that need to ascertained here. Firstly, whether a leave can be obtained on the judicial review of an exam board’s decision and if so what would be the basis on the merits of the proposed JR.  Also,  whether  failure to take into consideration representations made on the mark scheme can suffice for the purposes of the proposed JR.