Thursday, May 24, 2018

The SQE is like Brexit. Public didn't ask for it, it promises everything but hasn't existed yet - and might not even happen

This is a sketch of my TED talk for Legal Cheek's Future of Legal Education Conference delivered in London on 23 May 2018:

Like Brexit, the SQE is causing upheaval. It could make things worse rather than better and may not even happen.

There are many parallels between Brexit and the SRA's SQE.

The decision to hold a referendum was not driven by public demand. Leaving the EU was not one of the top 10 demands by the public prior to PM Cameron calling a referendum. It was mostly about an internal matter of keeping Tories unified and killing off support for Ukip which was hampering Tories at the polls.

Likewise, neither firms nor universities asked for the SQE. This is mostly about an internal matter about the SRA and its own perception of how it plans to regulate in future.

We know more about what Brexit is not than what it might do. But what it might do is anything and everything that sounds good. More freedom, greater sovereignty, taking back control. How? Well, there's nothing yet to point to as it hasn't happened nor is there a deal.

Likewise, the SQE is claimed to improve access, raise standards, etc. But no exam has been written or even provider chosen to write the exam which doesn't yet exist. Much of its justification rests on its effects - and without anything in existence it's all question begging. No wonder the LSB has refused to approve its use before it exists. The many promises need to have some evidence first.

The more we learn about details concerning Brexit the less appealing it looks to even many of its original supporters. Details around Customs and the Northern Ireland border a case in point.

Likewise, the SQE is supposed to be raising standards missing in young trainees. But what of the QLD did the SRA not like? I know of no reports of anyone seeing a lecture, reading a module guide or even taking a look at a hand-out. There is little to no knowledge about what's actually happening in our classrooms which makes the certainty for a change all the more suspicious.

Since the BSB is keeping the QLD, many law schools will keep teaching the QLD subjects so students can qualify to train for the Bar. But with the SQE demanding different content from the QLD, this means that a degree programme already about 50% fixed becomes even more fixed with additional required content. This content will concern more practical, and it seems less academic, issues. And it will drive out areas like comparative and international law modules precisely at the time our students need to be ready for a global world.

(It is also revealing in new research discussed at the conference this morning about what law firms most want but don't get that none of this covered by the SQE - despite the fact the SQE is supposed to ensuring this gap is covered by it. In fact, the opposite.)

While there is a kind of inevitability about Brexit, much could cause it to go off the tracks or stop. We hear of transition periods and they get longer and longer.

Likewise, the SQE's roll-out changes again and again. Just before I spoke, we've heard the SRA claim that the transition period looks set to grow longer again now too. But what if it didn't happen? It seems to me this would do no harm - and probably a lot of good.

If we want to raise standards or improve diversity, we don't need a multiple choice exam to achieve it. In fact, such an exam might undermine doing so. It can be far easier to use the existing framework which looks at widening participation, employability, salaries, etc than creating an exam from scratch.

If only the SRA would have the leadership to think again. There is a constructive dialogue waiting to happen between the SRA, BSB, firms, universities and more to ensure the UK continues to have a global leading legal educational system. But proceeding with a SQE for internal SRA-related reasons doesn't improve things for students learning law, for universities educating students, for firms hiring graduates or the profession in the long-term.


Friday, May 18, 2018

Royal Wedding - what Meghan Markle needs to know to become British

1 day until the Royal wedding, so I guess that means Megan Markle is a British citizen now... right? Here is the definitive guide to the most hotly disputed issue in the UK today. The essential roadmap for the immigration debate 👑🇬🇧

Friday, April 27, 2018

Quoted in celebrity section of The Washington Post

So why? Obviously because about Meghan Markle and the UK citizenship test she'll have to take in the near future. Details here.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

House of Lords select committee accepts several recommendations

After many years of campaigning for changes to the citizenship and immigration rules, I was delighted to see this select committee report -- accepting most of my key recommendations that would help transform the system for the better.

The report:

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Thom Brooks Channel - YouTube


Watch my new Thom Brooks channel on YouTube. Includes live interviews, media appearances and more.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Being British

Much fun to be part of this short student film on "Being British" exploring British identity and that bad pub quiz, otherwise known as the UK citizenship test - HERE.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Brexit: a house of cards – and unlikely to address deeper issues behind Brexit vote, says Thom Brooks

My statement to press:

“Britain’s Brexit deal so far is like a house of cards. The government has so many red lines we know more about what it doesn’t want than what it can achieve. Northern Ireland’s border is a problem everyone knew about it from the start, but will be left until the end – with the EU making clear anything agreed requires PM honours commitment to a borderless NI. But her red line against a customs union could be the undoing of any deal – leaving too little time for the UK to get an alternative infrastructure in place.
Brexit also doesn’t mean Brexit. The key promises of Vote Leave won’t happen not least because the PM said so after the vote.
But does Brexit matter for the voters who wanted it? I’m doubtful. The key concern for Leavers wasn’t taking back control of borders or sovereignty, but taking back control period. Many feel alienated, not listened to, left behind. Brexit was about sending a message. There is deep insecurity about the future regarding housing, education and employment. Leave supporters haven’t budged much despite one promise being broken after another because, I believe, Brexit was about something more than Brexit – it was a call for change and a desire to make voices heard. That’s what is important.
This makes Brexit all the more challenging. Getting the best deal may not be enough to please those that supported leaving the EU if it leaves them worse off – further feeding a sense of disconnection and alienation.”

Friday, March 23, 2018

Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess

. . . is my latest column, this time for The Guardian -- read here.

Dean of Durham Law School headline speaker at Future of Legal Education and Training Conference with Lord Briggs

Professor Thom Brooks, the Dean of Durham Law School, will be a keynote speaker at the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference in a “star-studded roster”. The event hosted by Legal Cheek takes place on 23 May at King’s Place London. Other speakers include Lord Briggs (Supreme Court), Isabel Parker (Freshfields), Julie Brannan (SRA), Vanessa Davies (BSB) and Shruti Ajitsaria (Head of Fuse, Allen & Overy). Brooks said: “I’m delighted to address the premier legal education conference this year alongside the leading advocates and reformers in the country. I am especially thrilled that the ground-breaking work we’re doing at Durham is receiving such attention.”


Friday, February 09, 2018


Saudi Arabia is opening the door for more women to practice law thanks to a new programme launched by a Durham University graduate. The Prince Sultan University will be providing the first legal training for women law graduates in Saudi Arabia. The first cohort of twenty-five women will undertake a four-week programme.

This new programme is led by the university’s law school dean Dr Ibrahim Al-Hudaithy, a graduate of Durham Law School.

It is not the first time Durham’s law alumni have broken new ground for women lawyers in this country. In 2013, Durham Law School graduate Raya Al-Khatib became only the fifth woman to be granted a license to practice law in Saudi Arabia following her graduation.

Professor Thom Brooks, Dean of Durham Law School, said that ‘we are proud to see our graduates as pioneers championing the cause of opening legal practice to women in Saudi Arabia. A very welcome first step on a long journey and we are delighted to see our former students leading the way internationally’.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Durham Law School congratulated in UK Parliament

Local MP Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods issued an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons on 30 January 2018 congratulating the Law School on our 50th Anniversary. See it here:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Citizenship test might be available in Cornish and not Scots Gaelic or Welsh -- but why?

The government revealed they might allow individuals to sit the UK’s citizenship test in Cornish. This was announced in response to a question by Baroness Smith of Basildon, a Labour Peer and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. The move is all the more surprising because it appears the government’s decision to consider a test in Cornish came after Smith’s question — suggesting this was not a change being planned previously.

In 2014, the Tory-led coalition government granted protected minority status for the Cornish. Its effect is that the government and public bodies are required to consider the equality of the Cornish in decision-making alongside previously recognised protected groups: the Scots, Welsh and Irish. Few commentators believed this announcement carried much significance beyond its symbolism at the time.

The exception was me. An immigration law expert, I recognised that this change granting the Cornish protected equal treatment with the Scots, Welsh and Irish would mandate significant changes to the Life in the UK citizenship test which carries virtually no mention of Cornish history or culture. It does require test applicants to know the patron saints, flags, national foods and more for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. No revisions have yet been made to the test since its current third edition was published in 2013 — the year prior to this change.

Replying to Smith’s parliamentary question, Baroness Williams of Trafford said Theresa May’s government “will consider whether it would be appropriate to make the test available in Cornish as part of the protected minority status”. Williams is Minister of State for the Home Office and a Tory Peer.

The government’s response is hugely surprising. Since the test was first launched, it could be taken in English, Scots Gaelic or Welsh. My research was the first to reveal that the test was sat only once in Scots Gaelic and never in Welsh. The coalition government ended all non-English citizenship tests since October 2013 — which did not raise objections in Parliament by either Plaid Cymru or SNP.

Why is the government considering launching the UK citizenship test in Cornish — when it only recently stopped producing it in Scots Gaelic or Welsh?

The only explanation appears to be that the government does not fully grasp the implications for granting the Cornish protected minority status. This does not in fact require producing the test in Cornish since it is not produced in Scots Gaelic or Welsh — and so the Cornish would not lack equality with the Scots or Welsh. But what it does mandate is information about the Cornish flag, patron saint, history and more are included in the citizenship test or the government risks continuing to breach their protected minority status. Not even Cornish pasties get a mention. This must change.

I would not be surprised if the government was not challenged on this point shortly. After several years of inaction, time is running out and they may be forced to make a change if an appeal is made.

Otherwise, the government is at risk of creating an unnecessary anomaly launching tests in the smallest British language while ending it for more popular alternatives. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists didn’t protest when the change to English-only citizenship tests was introduced. I expect this will change should the test be in Cornish but their regional languages.

In short, this is yet another problem of the government’s own making. It need not have changed how tests are produced, declared a new protected status or make what appears to be an error in responding to Smith’s parliamentary question. But they have and such shambolic handling of nationality rules shows their lack of attention to detail on citizenship and immigration issues more generally symbolising a lack of seriousness about one of the public’s biggest concerns.

Friday, January 05, 2018

PRESS RELEASE: Citizenship test might be available in Cornish but not Scots Gaelic or Welsh, says government

Citizenship test might be available in Cornish but not Scots Gaelic or Welsh, says government

For immediate release – Friday, 5 January 2018

-With picture-

*TV and radio broadcast facilities available*

The government revealed they might allow individuals to sit the UK’s citizenship test in Cornish. This was announced in response to a question by Baroness Smith of Basildon, a Labour Peer and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords.

In 2014, the Tory-led coalition government granted protected minority status for the Cornish. An immigration law expert, Professor Thom Brooks at Durham University, said at the time this change required significant revisions to the Life in the UK citizenship test because the Cornish were to have equal treatment with other protected groups like Scots, Welsh and Irish. Yet no changes have been made to the citizenship test since its current third edition was published in 2013.

Replying to Smith’s parliamentary question, Baroness Williams of Trafford said Theresa May’s government “will consider whether it would be appropriate to make the test available in Cornish as part of the protected minority status”. Williams is Minister of State for the Home Office and a Tory Peer.

The government’s response has caught many by surprise. Professor Brooks said: “It’s remarkable to discover the government is considering the production of citizenship tests in Cornish not long after they stopped making tests in Scots Gaelic or Welsh. Either they don’t understand what their granting Cornish protected status requires or they risk creating an unnecessary anomaly launching tests in the smallest British language while ending it for more popular alternatives.”

Originally launched in 2005, the Life in the UK citizenship test was available in English, Scots Gaelic and Welsh until October 2013. It is now only produced in English. There were no objections raised in Parliament to this change by Plaid Cymru or the SNP. According to research by Brooks, only one non-English test was sat in Scots Gaelic and none in Welsh.

Brooks said: “Protected status is not about putting the test into more languages, but adding more balance. Cornish culture and history are virtually absent from the test – not even Cornish pasties are mentioned. If they are to have the equality afforded to them, the test must change to reflect this move. Government has dragged its feet for too long and their response is shambolic”.


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My submission to the Boundary Commission - Sedgefield

I'm going public with my individual response to the Boundary Commission consultation regarding proposed changes to the Sedgefield constituency submitted in a private capacity:

I submit two objections to the current proposals under consideration:

First, there appears no clear rationale for changing the name of the constituency from "Sedgefield" to "Billingham and Sedgefield". The Labour Party's official response was correct to argue that name changes should only be made when necessary.

Secondly, there appears no clear rationale for adding Billingham to the constituency. Under the current proposals, "Billingham and Sedgefield" will have more people (78,205) than any of the surrounding constituencies - see Hartlepool 77,215; Redcar and Cleveland 72,951; Middlesbrough and Eston 76,979; Stockton and Yarm 75,818; Darlington 74,929; City of Durham and Easington 77,002 and Bishop Auckland 71,135.

Retaining Billingham creates an extended boot-shaped area that looks - and feels - gerrymandered. Removing it would decrease voter size of constituency, but would keep Sedgefield above minimum. Either "Stockton and Yarm" (first preference) or "Middlesbrough and Eston" (second preference) would make a better fit.

Wynyard Village is on a peninsula part of Hartlepool which at least looks artificial. It would work better to put this within Sedgefield -- and for Sedgefield to keep the Trimdons north of Fishburn. This would unify Wynyard and Wynyard Village in the same constituency without dividing them (and dividing the community) as the current proposals support. Plus, Fishburn and the Trimdons (Grange, Colliery, Village) have historic ties with Sedgefield. Not only are they together now in the constituency, but major home construction in the area brings these areas together providing a form of communal coherence that these proposals disrupt. This should be avoided.

Adding some local villages that have strong communal ties while separating off Billingham (not in the constituency now anyway) would leave "Sedgefield" a geographically wide constituency, but provide greater communal coherence, produce a less radical redrawing of a well known constituency map avoiding artificial gerrymandered-looking boundaries and it could avoid separating the Wynyards or dividing the Trimdons.