Last week the Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) announced that King’s College London (KCL) would act as the validating body for the new ICCA Bar Course. This means that successful graduates will receive a Postgraduate Diploma in Bar Practice from KCL. The ICCA has also successfully registered with the Office for Students as a HE Provider
The ICCA’s course will be offered in two parts from September 2020: the first part will be taught online and focus on the knowledge subjects of Criminal Litigation, Evidence and Sentencing and Civil Litigation, Evidence and ADR. It is recommended that this part will take 12-15 weeks to complete, starting in September or January, although students will be able to complete the course at their own pace if they prefer. In addition to their role as validating body, KCL has been instrumental in developing the online course. King’s is one of the UK’s leading providers in postgraduate online qualifications. The first part of the ICCA Bar Course will cost £1,575, including all textbooks and BSB administrative fees.
The second part of the course will be taught in person within the precincts of the Inns of Court over 20 weeks starting in March or September. It will be skills-based with modules on advocacy, opinion writing and legal research, drafting, conference skills, and professional ethics. This part of the course will cost £11,520, including all textbooks and BSB administrative fees.
In light of this latest announcement, The Student Lawyer sat down with Lynda Gibbs, the Dean of the ICCA, to find out more about this innovative new course.
I am a languages graduate, but my first real job was at the Crown Prosecution Service; they sponsored me to qualify at the Bar. I practised for 7 years before teaching on the vocational course at Nottingham Law School, then at Kaplan Law School where I ran the BPTC for 4 years. I was the Design Director for the a new BPTC at the University of Law and then joined the Inns of Court in 2015 as Director of Programmes, before becoming Dean last September.
The first issue we saw was cost. It was fast approaching £20,000 to qualify at the Bar in London. Lots of students with weaker A-Levels and a lower second-class degree were being offered places on Bar courses and paying almost £20,000 upfront. That’s not to say that some of these students wouldn’t make brilliant barristers, but the statistics are against them – the percentage of pupillage holders with a 2:2 degree is very small. Too many students were paying a lot of money only to find, at the end of a 30-week course, that they were heavily in debt and had failed the vocational course. Those who did pass, found it very hard to secure pupillage.
We wanted to break up the risk by giving students the opportunity to study the course in two parts. The difficult criminal and civil litigation and ADR exams are taken first, as part of the online part of the course. It will give students a chance to think about whether the Bar is really for them before going ahead with the second, more expensive part. If they decide it’s not for them, they will not have invested heavily. They can study without paying rent in London and can continue to work if they need to.
The second driver for us was accessibility and addressing the elitism that many see as an issue at the Bar. We have sought to address this with our blind admissions system.
There is an online application form that filters out applicants who do not have strong academic credentials although we are agnostic to the place of study. Applicants then have to answer a series of 6 questions that have been developed with an Equality and Diversity Consultant to make them as fair as possible.
The shortlisting committee created a shortlist of candidates. All we knew of the applicants was their candidate number and the responses to the questions. We did not have their names or any other information about their educational, social or cultural background.
The successful shortlisted students have been invited to three selection days in February where they will be asked to present a short piece of advocacy, do a short piece of written work and have an interview. These exercises have also been prepared in conjunction with the our Equality and Diversity consultant.
We want to keep the intake small, so in future years we will be taking up to 240 students. This year we are only taking up to 100.
We wanted our course to have a heavy focus on advocacy, which is key to the profession. Although barristers were generally given good training in the fundamentals of advocacy, little was done to prepare them for more nuanced scenarios, such as dealing with litigants in person, children, vulnerable witnesses or witnesses whose first language is not English. I know from the other aspect of my role at the ICCA in preparing CPD materials for the practising Bar that these skills are increasingly needed at the Bar.
We wanted to give future barristers a strong grounding in these skills from the beginning of their training to ensure they are better prepared to handle these situations in practice.
This is all still being worked out, as the old BarSas system has ended There will be two cycles of the ICCA Bar Course per year, so we may have more than one application window. Interested applicants should continue to check the ICCA website for updates.
If you are interested in learning about the ICCA Bar Course, you can find out more here.