The number of pupils at the bar crashed by 20 per cent between 2003 and 2004, statistics published in the Bar Council Annual Report reveal.

The figures show that there were just 572 pupils in 2004, with 51 per cent of those being male, compared with 711 in 2003. The 2003 figure is itself an 8 per cent decrease on 2002, when there were 766 pupils.

The proportion of pupils from ethnic minorities has also dropped, from 20 per cent in 2002 and 2003 to 16 per cent last year.

One cause of the drop in pupils is the change in funding that was implemented three years ago by the Bar Council.

The new rules require sets to pay pupils a guaranteed £10,000 over the course of their 12-month pupillage.

A committee monitoring requests to waive the fee reported this month that most applications came from small provincial or criminal sets.

David Wurtzell, a barrister and continuing professional development consultant at the Inns of Court School of Law, said: “People are concerned about to what extent the bar is becoming less accessible. The bar might become more restrictive.”