Bar Readers’ Entrance Exam Review
A review of the Victorian Bar Readers’ entrance exam was recently conducted by a panel comprising Dr Sue McNicol QC (Chair), the Hon Justice Mark Weinberg AO, John Noonan QC, Adrian Finanzio SC, Sarah Keating, Fleur Shand and Nicole Mollard.
The panel consulted widely and considered some 80 submissions from the judiciary, members of the Bar and others.
In 1979, the Victorian Bar introduced our Bar readers’ course, the first of its kind in Australia. It is still the best and most comprehensive course for the training of new advocates.
In 2011, following two reviews conducted in 2009, the Bar introduced the Readers’ Entrance Examination (the Exam), to ensure that readers commencing the course were sufficiently equipped with core knowledge to commence practical training exercises immediately.
A review of the exam was conducted in 2014, with some changes made as a result of the recommendations of that review.
The 2019 exam review panel made a number of findings and recommendations. Bar Council has considered and accepted all recommendations entirely or in principle.
Recommended improvements to the exam
The exam and the purpose of the exam will be retained. The exam will be conducted in future on a Sunday instead of a weekday. The subject matter examined will be broadly unchanged with no significant new components introduced. There will be refinement of some content, such as the focus of questions on criminal and civil procedure. The amount of reading time will be increased. A standing Exam Review Panel will be established for this and other purposes.
More significant changes include shifting to a fully open book exam model, to reduce the amount of ‘rote learning’. New exam preparation materials will be produced and made available to registered participants and to our members. We will move towards administering the exam in electronic form (but candidates who prefer to hand-write will be able to continue to do so).
‘The overhang problem’
A complex issue considered by the review panel was oversubscription by eligible candidates, or ‘overhang’.
In recent times, the number of applicants passing the exam and seeking entry into our course has exceeded the number of places available. The Bar has limited capacity to increase the number of new readers without reducing the quality or increasing the cost of the course. As members know, the course is substantially taught by volunteers—about 140 judges, barristers and others—who generously donate their time for the purposes of the course.
Bar Council is considering options to mitigate the overhang problem. I will report back to members in relation to this question soon.
On behalf of the Bar, I thank the exam review panel for the extraordinarily valuable work they have undertaken and the superb report they produced, which will result in improvements to the exam for the benefit of all our future members.
Barrister of the Year finalists
Congratulations to Catherine Gobbo, Sharon Kermath and Darren Mort who were finalists in the Barrister of the Year category of the Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards last Friday night. The Barrister of the Year category celebrates “outstanding performance by an individual practising at the bar”.
While they narrowly missed out on the top gong—which went to Mark Douglas of the SA Bar—it is great to see their careers publicly recognised in this way.
Photos: Barrister of the Year Finalist Darren Mort, with wife Anne Mort and son Samuel Mort; Barrister of the Year Finalist Sharon Kermath
Bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination
On Wednesday evening I introduced a very well-attended CPD session jointly hosted by the Victorian Bar and the International Bar Association on the IBA’s groundbreaking international study into the prevalence of sexual harassment and bullying in the legal profession, the results of which were deeply disturbing, including (in fact, particularly) for the Australian legal profession. Underreporting, and the failure of bystanders to call out unacceptable conduct, are two of the major impediments to cultural change.
Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are conduct offences under rule 123 of the Legal Profession Uniform Conduct (Barristers) Rules 2015.
The Victorian Bar is committed to providing a working environment free from bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment. The principles on which the Bar is founded demand respectful behaviour by our members at all times.
A year has passed since the introduction of the Victorian Bar’s improved conduct policies against bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment. As part of the reforms introduced last year, the Bar recruited and trained a team of Bar Conciliators to assist in providing advice to those who have experienced or witnessed unacceptable conduct, and in resolving complaints.
Bar Conciliators can, with the consent of both parties, attempt to resolve complaints against barristers by other barristers and those who work with them. The process is voluntary and confidential. Those who have experienced or witnessed unacceptable conduct can also report that conduct to the Bar, to assist us in understanding its prevalence and the contexts in which it occurs, without the grievance being investigated further.
All information submitted under the policies is treated confidentially. Anonymised reports of the numbers and types of complaints and reports are reviewed by Bar Council each quarter.
AAT appointment expressions of interest
I bring to members’ attention a call for expressions of interest issued this week for appointment to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as Member, Senior Member and Deputy President. See the notice below for more information.
A busy week
This morning I represented the Bar at the welcome for his Honour Judge Arushan Pillay in the County Court. My speech can be read here.
Last night I chaired my third last ordinary Bar Council meeting as President. Not that I’m accelerating to escape velocity or anything, but just quietly, woo hoo.
Tonight I fly to Adelaide for the SA Bar Association Dinner, followed by an Australian Bar Association Council meeting on Saturday.
Behind the scenes this week, among other things, I caught up with the CEO, chaired a meeting of the Executive, met with representatives of the Essoign Club, did interviews for Channel 7 and ABC TV, and advanced planning with the Law Council of Australia for a televised appearance before the National Press Club in Canberra next month with Arthur Moses SC on the erosion of freedom in Australia.