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Distinction between barristers, solicitors getting blurred in UK, says scholar Crisp



New areas in legal practice is evolving daily across the globe. There is therefore no doubt that these emerging areas of legal practice has made the profession a global phenominal. Interestingly, Nigerian legal practitioners do not want to be left behind. United Kingdom seems to be the first port of call for Nigerian lawyers seeking to acquire more of these evolving knowledge. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, the dean, faculty of law, BPP University, London, Prof. Peter Crisp explained issues around a partnership it entered with Nigerian Law School. He also spoke on the possibility of fusing the profession in UK, global commercial law as well as the Open University system in UK among others. 

What is your view on the emerging practice on mortgages and securitisation?

I lecture in Mortgages and Securitisation. I lectured Nigerian Law School students in Abuja. The principles of Mortgages and Securitisation are identical, both in England and Nigeria. Obviously, since Independence,  Nigeria and England have developed different mechanisms and systems, but in other to explain securitisation to students, you got to have a good grasp of security and mortgages standard example of secured obligation. And of course, the problem with securitisation in stock crisis in 2008 rose after the fact that politically, President Clinton decided that banks should stop lending money to poor people, which of course meant interest rate was low and property prize rising. The problem is that they wanted to control inflation, but politicians interfered and then add interest rates, people were unable to keep up with their repayments. And then, you have all  these bad debts.  It wasn’t even securitised.  The loan bonds had been sold by the banks to the institutional investors. They are sold as a special purpose vehicle. The bonds sold to institutional investors as highly securitised. It could be anywhere in the world. It could be in Lagos, Hong Kong, London or New York. Financial structutres were very poorly computed, which resulted in a poor quality debts, which led to the financial crisis of 2009 when the chickens came home to roost. So, it is an international topic, but it needs domestic context. Securitisation is developing fast now. We now have business securitisation. You can also securitise your future income streams. That is how, in football finance, a lot of football clubs raise money to buy players by securitising the future income streams from televised fees, from gate fees and may predict the future income streams and securitise it. It is a fascinating example of how structured finance has had an impact on the world of football. 

The economic downturn took a devastating effect on real estate. What are the state of things now in UK?

There is a rebound. It is growing gradually in UK. Property values in the capital have continued to grow and the prediction is that they would continue to grow this year. That is because  the capital city is in a special position, where foreign investment takes place. I was in Hong Kong this time last year, in the local English language newspaper in Hong Kong, I saw an advertisement, flats for sale in East London.  That means that developers in East London were advertising flats for sale to Chinese  investors in Hong Kong.  I think we have incurrable demand for properties in London, house prices continue to rise. But there is stagnation on other parts of the country, where prices have decreased as much as they rise in London. But we are optimistic about the future.

The open university in UK runs law programme. Do they qualify to practice as lawyers?

There are qualifying law degrees in England and Wales. They call it QLD, Qualifying Law Degree. After that, you go and do the vocation programme. The qualification in England is a little more complicated than in Nigeria. You have to go and do QLD. You then do the legal practice course, if you want to come in as a solicitor or bar course if you want to become a barrister. So it’s a two route thing depending on what you want to do. After that, you have to go to a period of supervised training, and that is called a training contract, if you want to come in as solicitor, it’s two years. And if you want to come in as barrister, it’s one year and it’s called pupillage. It is slightly elongating, but slightly different process because the undergraduate degree here in Nigeria is five years while ours is three years. In fact the period of time is the same, the process is different.

What is your view about the separation of solicitors from the barristers in UK?

There has been a huge amount of change since I left the bar in 1997. And I think that eventually we would probably adopt a fused profession or at least where everybody qualifies as a solicitor first, then specialises as a barrister or solicitor. That is the case in Australia. In Australia, everybody qualifies as a solicitor and later qualifies as a barrister if you want to specialise in advocacy. We still need an independent bar with special focus. I think the route to that may well change in the future because now, solicitors, if you do the high rise audience programme have exactly same rights as barristers. When I was in the bar, only barristers could appear in the high courts, the court of appeal and what is now the Supreme Court, the House of Lords. The high courts were only open to barristers. That has changed now. All solicitors, if they do the qualification can as well appear in any court just as barristers. So the distinction between the two branches of the profession is getting blurred. 

Do you think it would be in the interest of the profession to have both fused?

I think so. It’s awful lot to be said in the system in which the early years of training is common. Everybody has the same grouding in the basis of litigation and process and skills at start, then you specialise later. I think that is a lot to be said for that fusion in the beginning. The work of the bar is also disappearing. I think the reorganization of the profession is the course of that. When I was in the bar, there were probably 700 to 800 people a year for barristers. Today, in England and Wales, maybe 400. That is because a lot of the work which the barristers traditionally used to do is now being done by solicitors and other legal professionals. And of course in England, we have legislations that allow solicitors organize themselves so they can go into Alternative Business Structures (ABS) which allows legal advice to be given by different times organizations other than the partnership. Historically, solicitors are either sole practitioners on their own or in a partnership. You couldn’t do it in any other way. Today, the whole approach to the structure of the professions is changing dramatically in England. 

What are the qualifying examinations which the solicitors do in other to be given the right of audience in court?

A solicitor has to do the higher rights of audience programme. Because if you qualify as a solicitor, you can only appear in the junior courts. You can’t appear in the high courts or Supreme Court. It is an intensive advocacy training. Then if you pass that programme, you have access to the higher courts. 

What about the BPP University?

BPP Univeristy has three main school. We have the school of law, which I am the dean, the business school and the school of health. In school of health, we have nursing, postgraduate, dentistry and psychology. In business school, we have marketing, tax, management, accountancy, human resources and leadership. Accountancy and tax is our heritage. That is how we started. The law school started in 1992. We have students in 8 locations. We have two locations in London.  We have in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Cambridge. We do everything from LLB to masters degrees. We are the largest undergraduate law degree in England with 17,000 students . We have specialisation in corporate finance law, debt finance, equities, mergers and acquisition and transactions. Because of that specialisation, 39 internaitonal law firms do their trainings with us specifically. A lot of those firms send their trainees to BPP and no where else. So we are exclusive trainers to those students.  We do Islamic finance, Chinese business law, financial regulation compliance as well the three courses we have decided to deliver to Nigerian students. We are very much focused on the quality of teaching and in the survey of national law students last year, BPP was rated number five for the quality of teaching. And that was behind Oxford university, Cambridge university and university College London. We are happy to be behind those ones. That was a great honour for us, a great tribute for what we do. 

How did you develop this partnership with the Nigerian law school?

This came about following a visit to Nigeria by my vice chancellor, professor Carl Lygo about 18 months ago. He lectured at Lagos campus of the law school and met with the director general. We then had a response courtesy visit by the director general of the Nigerian law school, Mr. Olaruwanju Onadeko, who came last year to BPP University, London. And the result of those visits and discussions, we came up with the idea of offering Nigerian law school graduates a masters degree in law. They have to qualify as lawyers in Nigeria to be able to apply. It is only open to Nigerians. We felt that we could create about 90 credits. That 90 credit will be taken in four months. In that four months, they will have to complete the third module of their chosen area and start the citation. It is a very flexible programme. What it does is that it allows students to choose a special area as well as their area of practice which are in three subjects – comparative commercial law, transnational criminal justice and the international business law. These subjects are relevant to Nigerian lawyers. It allows them to get a masters qualification without a full year expenses in London. London is an expensive city to live in. It also give them the opportunity to experience the culture of another vibrant capital city. This programme is principally for anybody who has graduated from the Nigerian law school. The cost of the programme is £4,200. I just spoke with someone who paid £13,000 for a masters degree in Manchester University. I think it’s an exceptional value. We are also set to launch two scholarship schemes which would be awarded by the Nigerian law school, which would allow two citizens of Nigeria to study free of charge in London. 

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