News release

Case for SQE strong with more work needed on the detail

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said there is a strong case for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), but has extended its timetable so that it can work on getting the detail right before making a final decision.

With more than 240 consultation responses, 18 events and nearly 200,000 impressions on social media, the SRA was pleased by the extensive engagement with its initial SQE proposals. The case for a new centralised approach, assessing trainee solicitors to robust, high standards in a consistent way, proved to be controversial.

There was some support, but also considerable opposition, particularly from universities and academic representative groups. Many respondents felt they needed more detail about how the whole qualification process would work before they could reach a firm view, while others questioned whether the current system was broken.

The SRA originally planned to make a decision this month on the principle of introducing the SQE, and then consult on the detail of its plans. In response to the scale of the consultation feedback and the need to consider all the responses carefully, it has now put back a final decision on the assessment until spring next year.

It is - as planned - working up more detailed proposals, which will include its thinking about how the exam could work alongside a period of recognised work-based learning. The consultation will also provide a draft of the Assessment Framework, which explains in detail the potential nature of the SQE, its level of difficulty, breadth and depth. It will consult on this in the autumn.

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said: "I think the case for a form of centralised assessment is strong. It addresses the problem that, currently, qualifications are not comparable - multiple courses and exams mean that standards can vary significantly and there is a lack of transparency. Any new assessment needs to be fair and consistent and ensure that new solicitors can meet the high standards that the public and employers expect.

"I welcome the support from organisations such as the Law Society, the Law Centres Network and the Black Solicitors Network. Yet we have had some useful challenges. We recognise the call for more detail, and the need to make sure that the SQE is targeted and proportionate while maintaining the essential high standards. I am absolutely clear that a period of work-based learning has to be a fundamental component of the process.

"We will continue to listen and gather more evidence. Our autumn consultation should broaden and deepen the debate, as everyone will have the chance to look at the detail and how our proposals all fit together. It is important that we do not rush any change. Our priority is getting this right."

A summary and analysis of responses to the first consultation, and copies of responses, will be published in autumn alongside the second consultation. Moving the decision back means the suggested start date for SQE moves from 2018 to no earlier than the academic year 2019/20.

Read the original consultation.