Pupillage system 'needs shake-up'

THE ENTIRE pupillage system may need an overhaul or it will remain a disorganised lottery for young barristers, a major study on the junior bar has concluded.

Alarming levels of sexual harassment and perceptions that racial and sexual discrimination in the independent Bar is rife are also highlighted in the report commissioned by the Council of Legal Education.

The vocational training course run by the Inns of Court School of Law, however, is singled out for praise by the six-year research project led by Professor Joanna Shapland of the Institute for the Study of Legal Education.

“What is in fact remarkable is the extent to which the barristers we interviewed said they had profited from the CLE course,” says the report.

The study found that junior barristers reported a reasonable amount of work on gaining tenancies.

As well as its revelations about sexual harassment and discrimination, the report, based on a survey of tenants who successfully completed the 1989/90 CLE course, paints a disturbing picture of the pupillage system.

“A number of respondents complained that their role in pupillage wasn't clear. Some said they acted largely as unpaid research assistants, one commented that for many, or even most pupils, pupillage is spent mainly making tea and a good impression.”

There is a lack of training and advice for pupil masters and mistresses and there is a need for “much more detailed thought about the content of pupillage and the consideration of mechanisms to ensure its implementation”, it claims.

Even the “nominal” measure of distributing check lists for pupils and their masters or mistresses is not being enforced.

The Bar Council should also provide a programme of post qualification courses and seminars, the report adds.

A call for a clearing house system for pupils was pre-empted last year by Bar Council chairman Peter Goldsmith QC who announced plans to set up a voluntary one this year.

Goldsmith says: “I share the concern expressed in the report over the current pupillage admissions system.

“In my inaugural speech to the Bar Council in December, I announced proposals to establish a voluntary central clearing system for pupillage admissions. I believe that such a system would assist in addressing the concern of the report.”

Michael Beloff QC is heading a working party to devise a clearing house scheme.