The college will be the successor to the long-established Advocacy Training Council (ATC), acting on behalf of all the Inns in the development of education and training for the Bar and the wider profession.
The creation of such a college has been discussed for some years. It was formally proposed by the President of COIC Lord Justice Pitchford and COIC’s Director James Wakefield in a paper circulated to the Inns in March 2014, and the idea was later set out in more detail by a working group appointed by the Inns. The new college is seen by its promoters as achieving two distinct aims. First, it will build upon the highly successful programme of post-qualification training developed by the ATC, in support of, among many other things, the advocacy and other professional training delivered at the coalface by the Inns and Circuits. Secondly, it will encourage reform of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) long promised by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
After extensive consultation in 2015, the BSB will be putting forward its own proposals to change the BPTC later this year. In the meantime the ICCA will have a full programme of work to fulfil for the established profession.
Under the energetic and imaginative leadership of the former Chairman of the Bar Council Mr Justice Green, the ATC has carried out ground-breaking work in training advocates in many new areas of activity, adding to its regular programme of developing straightforward advocacy training. Most notably it has advanced significant reform in the treatment in court of vulnerable witnesses through The Advocates’ Gateway. It has also generated training materials in the art of appellate advocacy, and the handling of foreign languages in court and the effective use of interpreters. At the Bar Conference in 2014 it presented important new work on techniques in the preparation and examination of expert witnesses. It is actively preparing improvements in training in professional ethics. Internationally, it delivers annually direct advocacy training throughout the Commonwealth. ATC’s advocacy trainers are also now in demand in other jurisdictions, and its current website is a recognised destination for practitioners seeking guidance and advice.
With the additional staffing and resources now provided by the Inns, the ICCA will continue and expand the ATC’s role of think-tank in advocacy training, and will inherit the whole of this large portfolio of work in progress.
CPD and international reach
Through an enlarged website, e-learning capabilities, a newsletter, conferences and training sessions, the ICCA will be able to make an even greater contribution to the continuing professional development of members of the Bar. It plans to forge closer links with the Circuits, the Specialist Bar Associations (SBAs) and the Judicial College, giving the Circuits and SBAs the opportunity to disseminate to a much wider audience, through the college’s media the volume of outstanding educational materials which they create each year. The ICCA will improve online access to existing and new materials for practising members of the Bar. The ICCA has an ambitious programme for publicising throughout the Bar its work and the active training resources it has on offer.
The English and Welsh Bar enjoys a high level of prestige abroad. The ICCA has the opportunity to become a global centre of excellence in teaching the practice and ethics of advocacy in all its forms. Work is already in progress on strengthening the ATC’s and Inns’ existing international links in the field of professional development. This initiative promises to enhance the reputation of the Bar and increase demand for its services.
Pressing for a new-breed BPTC
The contribution which the ICCA can make to improvements in the BPTC – the second strand of its future activities – will also be on its agenda. In their paper of March 2014 COIC’s President and Director asked the Inns to support a proposal to split the BPTC into two parts: a Part 1, consisting of the knowledge-based element of the course, for which students could prepare by any means, including private study, wherever and over whatever timescale they wished; and a Part 2, consisting of the skills-based element of the course, which would continue to be delivered by providers as at present.
COIC’s working party demonstrated how this split might achieve two desperately needed reforms. First, while preparing for Part 1, students would be freed from the strait-jacket of formal attendance at a training centre, so that their fees and living and travel costs at that stage could be significantly reduced. Second, COIC argued that if students had to pass Part 1 before embarking on Part 2 the number committing themselves to the expensive part of the course would come down. There is a disturbingly high failure rate which now occurs at the end of the Bar course. The students who fail at that point have irrevocably committed themselves to many thousands of pounds in fees and living costs, and a year of study, for no tangible benefit to themselves. Their presence on the course sometimes holds up the progress of the rest of their group. Students for whom the course is not suitable should be identified at a much earlier and less expensive stage; and in any case, whether they pass Part 1 or not, under this scheme students would be able to take stock at that point, and reflect further on their choice of career, having a better understanding of their chances of success in the competition for pupillage, before committing themselves to more expense.
The Inns unanimously adopted the proposal to split the course. It was the central part of their response to the consultation paper on reforms to the BPTC issued by the BSB last summer. Whatever scheme the BSB decides in due course to adopt, the ICCA will consider what contribution it might be able to make to ensure that those who enter the profession have access to high quality training at reasonable cost.
Facilities and management structure
The title ‘college’ should not lead readers to believe that the Inns plan to set up costly new premises. The Inns have an abundance of high quality accommodation into which the college will comfortably fit. COIC and the ATC are administered from offices at 2 King’s Bench Walk in Inner Temple. That will serve as the main administrative hub for the college, supplemented by dedicated meeting and work space which COIC already has in Gray’s Inn. All four Inns have excellent public spaces for the holding of courses, conferences and other events in London. In its work outside London, the ICCA aims to be able to use the court buildings and other spaces which are made available to the Circuits.
The new entity will acquire new management. It will be led by the current Director of COIC, James Wakefield, a barrister who, before joining COIC, had experience in running two Bar Courses and is well-versed in the management of this work. He will be supported by an equally qualified Programme Director, Lynda Gibbs, and other specialists in the e-delivery of professional education and training. Its work will be overseen by a board of governors drawn from advocacy trainers within the Inns and Circuits. The board will also include a judicial member and a legal academic. The board will be appointing a further governor from outside the legal community, who has experience in delivering this type of service to other professions.
The ICCA has every reason to believe that the very large number of members of the Inns, Circuits and SBAs, who voluntarily dedicate so much of their time to training and delivering continuing education to colleagues, will welcome and support this new enterprise.
Contributor Derek Wood CBE QC, ICCA’s Chair of Governors