In a recent decision of the Visitors to the Inns of Court, (a panel of judges which hears appeals against certain decisions of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) - the regulatory body for barristers), it was held that the BSB had no duty to lower its academic standards for a disabled person.
The Appellant in the case suffered with retinitis pimentosa (a degenerative condition of the eyes). He wished to qualify as a barrister and applied to the BSB for exemption from the requirement that he have a second class degree. He held a third class law degree from the University of London. The Visitor found on the evidence that the University had provided him with extra time to sit his exams once it had become aware of his condition.
The BSB require students to have at least a second class degree to proceed to the vocational stage of qualifying as a barrister, unless exceptional circumstances were shown.
The BSB declined to exercise discretion in this case as there was insufficient evidence that the Appellant was academically of second class ability. The Appellant appealed to the Visitor, contending that (amongst other things) the BSB's requirement of a second class degree was a breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Disability Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2012 (the latter has replaced the former) and the right not to be denied education under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Visitor held that the requirement of a second class degree was a competence standard, which was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (ensuring that students enrolling on the vocational stage were of a sufficient academic standard to pass the course successfully). Accordingly, there was no obligation on the BSB to lower that standard for a blind person. The Visitor also held that limiting access to academic studies to those who have attained a sufficiently high level successfully to follow the course does not amount to a denial of the right to education.