Responding to the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) new Policy Statement outlining its position on pupillage and other forms of work-based learning, Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC, Chair of the Bar Council’s Education & Training Committee, said:
“We are pleased to see that the Bar Standards Board (BSB)’s Policy Statement on the training and qualification of barristers, released today, broadly adopts the Bar Council’s response to the recent BSB consultation, in which we proposed that:
- Pupillage should last a minimum of 12 months;
- Pupillage providers should be re-authorised if they wish to continue to offer pupillage; and
- There should be refresher training for pupil supervisors every five years.
“We also support, in principle, the decision to bring pupillage awards in line with the Living Wage to improve access to the Bar irrespective of background. However, the impact of this on the number of pupillages on offer must be monitored (35% of pupillage awards are less than £20,000 and many chambers offering the minimum pupillage award are in areas of publicly funded law, like crime, where the affordability of any increased award may be an issue and lead to the withdrawal of pupillages).
“We have concerns with some of the proposals. Firstly, we note that the BSB has not followed our recommendation that pupil supervisors should only have one pupil. Our views were informed by our consultation with all members of our profession, and reflected the distillation of years of experience across all sectors of the Bar. We are surprised the BSB has relaxed this requirement that we regard as important – pupillage is an intensive process if properly conducted. The possible impact could be the emergence of a two tier system, with better qualified pupils being those under single supervision.
“We note, too, that the BSB has altered the compulsory courses which pupils have to undergo (although this did not form part of the consultation). We will share our views on this with the BSB if we consider that such changes do not make for better vocational training for pupils. In terms of the proposal that external providers be allowed to offer advocacy training to pupils, we will be interested to see whether such training, if offered, matches the training already offered by the Inns of Court in terms of quality and cost.
“Additionally, an important part of the BSB’s paper is taken up with proposed changes to the BPTC, covering matters such as the way in which the course is taught, administered and assessed. We are wary of the proposals to deregulate matters such as class size, at a time when personalised vocational training in small cohorts is viewed by the Bar as vitally important; and we view with equal concern the proposal to allow unlimited applications for resits for up to 5 years – at a time when students taking the current BPTC have an unprecedentedly high failure rate. We welcome the fact that the Inns of Court are giving careful consideration to offering their own two-part BPTC training, as the Bar Council and the Council of the Inns of Court (COIC) have advocated over the last two years. We hope that course will concentrate on providing talented Bar students from all backgrounds with the best possible vocational grounding.”