Seven top sets of barristers’ chambers have agreed to fund pupillages that would have been otherwise cancelled due to Covid-19.

They follow in the wake of Keating Chambers, which put forward £20,000 in the summer to help fund a criminal Bar pupillage in a bid to offset the financial impact of the pandemic on the criminal bar.

The further sets that have now stepped forward are Atkin Chambers, Brick Court Chambers, Twenty Essex, Matrix Chambers, 3 Verulam Buildings, along with a group of members at Blackstone Chambers and a group of members 4 Pump Court.

Incoming chair of the Bar Council Derek Sweeting QC revealed the news in a speech last night, saying: “Because this scheme has been set up at short notice, as an emergency measure, I know there are other sets which are also likely to join.”

The scheme is administered by the Bar Council; separately, Quadrant Chambers is addressing the same need by another route.

Under this scheme the sets have offered to fund a criminal pupillage which would otherwise (due to the financial impact of Covid-19) not be offered, up to a maximum of £20,000. The offer covers pupillages which would have started in autumn 2020 but were cancelled or postponed, that would not otherwise be offered in the 2021 recruitment round or are additional to a pupillage which is currently being offered in the 2021 round.

Criminal sets that would like to take up this offer are being asked to get in touch with the Bar Council on the understanding that the identity of any set taking up the offer will be kept confidential. Interested chambers must complete the form provided by the Bar Council and email it to by 5pm on 22 December 2020.

3VB was the first set after Keating to sign up. Joint heads of chambers Ewan McQuater QC and Adrian Beltrami QC said: “We recognise the huge financial difficulties facing the criminal Bar at present, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Members of 3VB wish to offer their support to help minimise interruption to recruitment that could be so damaging to the criminal Bar generally and to the talented prospective pupils and barristers individually.”

Atkin’s head of chambers Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said: “It is essential that we continue to train a new cohort of aspiring barristers each year to ensure the future of a strong and independent Bar. The criminal bar has been particularly hit by the impact of Covid and consequent court closures. The members of Atkin Chambers were keen to offer support in a way that provides a tangible investment in the future of the criminal Bar.”

Helen Davies QC, joint head of Brick Court Chambers, said: “Brick Court is acutely aware of the devastating financial impact the pandemic has had on the criminal bar. We are keen to support the continued offering of criminal pupillages that would otherwise not have been available and hopefully thereby provide real assistance to the future of the criminal bar.”

Matrix CEO Rachel Holmes said: “We are conscious of the immense impact that the pandemic has had on the criminal Bar in particular and we therefore welcomed the opportunity to assist with funding pupillages that may not otherwise have gone ahead as planned.”

And Twenty Essex chambers co-heads Duncan Matthews QC and Stephen Atherton QC said in a statement: “Twenty Essex had no hesitation in enthusiastically backing this initiative as an act of solidarity with and in support of the criminal Bar, given its importance in the defence of the rights of citizens and to ensure that the opportunity for young people, in particular, to be able to practise in their chosen profession was not arbitrarily compromised by the current pandemic.”

Elsewhere in his speech Sweeting focused on the issue of race at the bar and said that in 2021 he would be mentored by a young Black member of the Bar and urged other senior barristers to sign up to the Bar Standards Board’s reverse mentoring scheme.”

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