Pupillage Review

The disparity between BVC and pupillage intake is one of the issues to be addressed in a major review, explains Dr John Carrier.

The different stages of education at the Bar—academic, vocational, pupillage and CPD—need to be approached in an holistic way, and for that reason, Derek Wood QC, fresh from having chaired the Review of the Bar Vocational Course (BVC),  has agreed to the request of the Bar Standards Board (BSB) that he lead a major review of pupillage.


The working group is firstly taking into account the work that has already been done on this subject, most notably Lord Neuberger’s Entry to the Bar report (November 2007) and the Bar Council report on the BVC by Richard Wilson QC (April 2008). We are already aware of the disparity between the numbers of BVC candidates (1,800) and pupillages (550 annually). Wood’s BVC report also raised the concern that some candidates simply would not meet the standards required for pupillage, however many were on offer. An overarching theme is therefore standards, and whether the methods of assessing these standards are appropriate.

Other concerns include the fairness, and regulatory regime surrounding recruitment and selection processes, the need for an effective application process (eg OLPAS) and guidance or training for selection panels. Linked to all this is the continuing issue of compulsory funding of pupillages.

Reconsidering the system

The first consideration is whether the term “pupillage” itself is the right one, whether the system of first and second six is effective and whether the overall length of a year should be reduced or extended. The current checklists will be revised where necessary, in order to ensure that they are a useful guide to supervisors and pupils. The system of issuing pupils with provisional qualification certificates upon completion of their first six months’ pupillage, and full practising certificates upon completion, will also be carefully considered.

Issues relating to part-time/flexible pupillages, pupils earning additional money by working during pupillage, pupillages in the employed Bar, and whether periods of reduction in pupillage and external training are appropriate, will be discussed.

“Who trains the trainers?” will also be a key area for debate—is the selection, training and accreditation of pupil supervisors effective or can it be improved? Should pupil supervisors be required to undertake updating or further training on a regular basis? If so, should such training be delivered by the Inns or by other providers? Guidance issued to pupil supervisors may well be revised and updated if this is helpful. However, the BSB is keenly aware that care must be taken not to over-regulate or impose unrealistic burdens. The BSB will also be reviewing the  regulatory aspects of pupillage, such as whether disciplinary, monitoring and complaints processes for pupils are appropriate.

Methodology

The working group includes QCs (some with judicial experience), BSB members, the BSB Education and Training Committee, the BSB Pupillage Sub Committee, representatives from the employed and the self-employed Bar, the Circuits, and barristers’ clerks (see www.barstandardsboard.org.uk for full details).

As with the BVC Review, the working group will avoid lengthy consultation documents, and instead carry out extensive face-to-face discussions with the Inns, COIC, Circuits, Specialist Bar Associations, BSB and Bar Council committees, supervisors, pupils and other relevant bodies. This evidence base will be used as the foundation for discussion, with pertinent statistical information. An online questionnaire for pupils is also planned, as well as possibly an anonymous online discussion forum for current pupils to provide comments on their experience. The working group is expected to report in October 2009.  

Dr John Carrier is Chair of the BSB’s Education and Training Committee

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