Bar alarm at black pass rate

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The Independent Online
Legal education chiefs are to examine why black candidates still trail their white counterparts in key examinations, as the Bar Council implements reforms to their education system.

Results from the Bar's vocational course showed a pass rate of 74.6 per cent for ethnic minority candidates, compared with 90 per cent for white students. Passing the course is a prerequisite for practice at the Bar in England and Wales.

The figure for ethnic minority students was down on last year's 80 per cent, but better than 1993's 70 per cent and the 55 per cent pass rate in 1992.

Mary Phillips, Dean of the Inns of Court School of Law, said: "We are concerned about the continuing discrepancy in pass rates between ethnic minority and white students."

She added that Birkbeck College had been commissioned to carry out an analysis of the results. The figures showed that for the first time since the course in practical advocacy skills was introduced in 1989, women students fared better than men. The pass rate for women was 88.2 per cent, compared with a 86.8 per cent rate for men.

A spokesman for the Bar Council said last night that the responsibility for the regulation of legal education for barristers would be taken over by the Bar Council in the next two years.

"We've responded to concerns that it wasn't right for a single institution to have a monopoly on teaching the bar course so we've developed a scheme which is currently being implemented to approve other universities in the country to teach the course," he said.

This is a policy which has been specifically supported by, among others, Labour's legal affairs spokesman Paul Boateng, a black barrister.

The spokesman added that there had been inquiries into the possible existence of indirect discrimination within the marking of the course, but that it had been decided this was not the case.

This is not the first time that racial discrimination has been suggested as an explanation for black candidates' poorer performance in the legal profession.

Last year an independent inquiry suggested that racial discrimination by barristers was a key factor in the high failure rate among black students trying for the Bar.

Yesterday the Bar Council spokesman stressed that the organisation was fully committed to seeking reform and improvement in the field of vocational education for barristers.