Mr Islam, the appellant, unsuccessfully appealed against a decision of the Qualifications Committee of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) upholding the refusal of the Head of Education Standards of BSB to exercise its discretion to allow him to undertake the Bar Vocational Course (BVC). Mr Islam appealed to the Visitors of the Inns of Court.

Background

BSB Regulations require that a student achieve a lower second class degree or above in order to proceed to the vocational stage of qualifying as a barrister. However, the BSB has a discretionary power to allow students to proceed to the BVC if:

  • The student is academically of second class quality overall
  • The student’s failure was directly attributable to a temporary cause which prevented that student from fulfilling his full academic potential
  • The cause did not render the student unsuitable to practice at the bar
  • The student showed clear motivation to qualify and practice at the bar

This discretion could only be exercised in exceptional circumstances and the BSB refused to exercise its discretion in favour of Mr Islam.

Mr Islam had begun a law degree when he developed a degenerative eye condition which resulted in eventual blindness. Mr Islam’s eye hospital recommended that he be given extra time for his examinations, which he was subsequently afforded by the University of London. Mr Islam failed several degree modules and was eventually awarded a third class degree. Mr Islam submitted that the BSB’s discretion was wrongly exercised because:

  • The University of London and the BSB failed to make reasonable adjustments for his blindness
  • The standard should be lower for a blind man
  • Additional medical evidence had become available
  • The BSB’s decision was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and/or the Equality Act 2010
  • The BSB’s decision deprived him of the right to education and to private life contrary to Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Decision

Mr Islam’s appeal was dismissed; the Court held that the BSB’s decision was proportionate and that the evidence demonstrated that Mr Islam had been given extra time consistent with the hospital’s suggestions. The Court held that there was nothing more that the University of London or BSB could/should have done and that the competence standard for the BVC should not be lower for a blind person. The Court also held that the existence of the standard in relation to a blind person did not constitute discrimination under either the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 or the Equality Act 2010 nor did it breach Articles 2 and 8 of the ECHR.

Comment

The BSB is required to consider the nature of the adjustments in fact taken in order to ascertain whether it should exercise its discretion. The existence of an academic standard in relation to a person with a disability does not constitute discrimination.