One of the worst consequences of the extreme financial pressure that many chambers find themselves under has been a dramatic fall in the number of pupillages available, again particularly in criminal sets reliant on public funding. Although the reduction in pupillages is wholly understandable, it makes even worse the disparity between the number of people who complete their academic training but are unable to get a pupillage, and must place in jeopardy the future of the criminal Bar.
It was in the light of this situation that COIC (the Council of the Inns of Court) has set up the Pupillage Matched Funding Scheme. Each of the four Inns has contributed funds and with this money the Inns will match the first six funding for pupillages provided by chambers. It is a requirement of the Scheme that chambers undertake that the pupillages being funded are additional to those that they would have offered in any event. The individual chambers recruit the pupil or pupils as they would normally do. If they recruit any additional pupils then the first six months of the pupillage will be funded by the Scheme, up to a maximum of £6,000, per additional pupil. The grant is then paid to the chambers. The COIC Grants Committee plays no role in the recruitment of the pupils who are part funded through the Scheme.
The first round of applications was considered in December 2013 and 15 pupillages are being funded in 2014, and a further 16, so far, in 2015. COIC was very keen to get the Scheme going quickly so that at least some additional pupillages could be in place for Autumn 2014. We are hoping that this year as the Scheme gains wider publicity and understanding, more chambers will apply and more additional pupillages will be created. We do appreciate that this is to some degree a drop in the ocean of problems facing chambers reliant on public funding. However, the future of the Bar depends on recruiting good candidates at the bottom end, and keeping a flow of pupils coming into chambers. It is also very damaging to the reputation of the Bar if there is such a wide gap between those who qualify and incur major financial burdens, and those who can actually get pupillage.
The next round of applications for funding of pupillages in 2015 and 2016 will be sought by the Committee by 5.00pm on Monday 1 December 2014. For more details and to complete and submit the online application please follow the link to www.innsofcourt.org.uk. We very much hope that more chambers which meet the criteria will apply.