An inquiry has been launched by the Council of Legal Education into the first significant drop in the pass rate of Bar School students.
The CLE announced this week that the proportion of students passing the Bar Vocational Course had fallen to 77 per cent, compared with 87 per cent last year.
The results mark a sudden end to year-on-year improvement in the performance of BVC students, although last year success rates were showing signs of tailing off.
They also reveal that attempts to narrow a yawning gap between the performance of white students and their black and ethnic minority peers have proved unsuccessful so far.
Although 124 black and ethnic minority students passed, a greater number than in previous years, this represented just 58 per cent of this group, compared with 81 per cent of white students who passed.
The CLE, which runs the bar course, has been working to implement recommendations made in 1992 by an independent inquiry chaired by Dame Jocelyn Barrow, which first identified the disparity in student success rates.
Now it is planning to circulate a detailed questionnaire to all students, as suggested by the Barrow inquiry, to dig deeper into the reasons behind the performance gap and also the overall 10 per cent drop in pass rates this year.
Mary Phillips, dean of the Inns of Court School of Law, said it was thought that a combination of financial difficulties facing law students and problems with finding training places were to blame for the drop in passes.