Former Labour home secretary brands proposed new solicitors' exam a potential matter of "national concern"

Hayley Kirton
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However, Lord Keen noted people go to university for reasons other than passing exams (Source: Getty)

A former Labour home secretary said today proposed changes to qualifying exams for solicitors should be treated as a matter of national concern.

Both Lord Blunkett and Lord Low of Dalston, the latter of whom brought the question forward for debate in the House of Lords, argued the Solicitors Qualifying Exam put forward by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) could leave universities with their hands tied over what to teach if they wished to remain competitive.

In particular, Blunkett slammed the potential narrowing of the curriculum as a matter of "national concern" if it lowered the number of wannabe lawyers studying issues like disability rights and family law.

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Lord Keen of Elie, the Lords spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, noted the legal professional and regulatory bodies were independent from the government so no assessment had been made of the proposed exam.

However, Keen also said he did not believe the exams would have the effect on university syllabuses that Blunkett and Low had suggested.

"With respect, where people undertake study at a university, whether it be a law degree or some other form of degree, they don't do so for the sole purpose of passing a professional examination," Keen said. "They do so in order to broaden their understanding in general and in order to extend their education, and their understanding of the law."

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The SRA has contended in the past the proposed qualification will ensure all would-be legal eagles are tested on the same topics to the same standard, while the current multiple routes to entry mean it is tricky for the public what areas of the law their lawyer has been examined on.

Statistics previously cited by the SRA state four out of five people believe everybody should have to pass the same final exam to become a solicitor, while three-quarters (76 per cent) would have more confident in their lawyers if they knew they all had to pass an identical test.

The SRA has not responded to City A.M.'s request for comment at time of writing.

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