Archive for April 7th, 2011

What a strange world we are all living in at the moment….

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We recorded our third episode of the #WithoutPrejudice podcast series last night – Carl Gardner and David Allen Green did the business.  I asked the questions.  Linking to the post done last night because I have done a fair few blog posts today and the original post is a fair bit of scrolling down.

We take wine this week… which, I can say, assisted discussion towards the end!

Listen to the podcast?

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Law Review: Unpaid pupillages?

Charles Miskin QC, on the letters page of The Times, today,  wrote:

“Sir, Your correspondent Peter Windle (letter, 6 April) makes a very significant point  Why does the Bar take only about 400 puipls a year? The answer, which may surprise him, is that for some years barristers have been allowed to grant pupillage only on a paid basis.  This policy was the product of a laudable desire to ensure fair access across the population. The result has been the collapse in the availability of pupillage.  Twenty years ago my chambers had about 25 members and we had a varying population of 4 to 6 unpaid pupils each year.  Now we have 90 members but with only three pupils, whom we provide with bursaries above the Bar minimum.  Three is a significant contribution to the Bar-wide entry, but this policy is ludicrous.  Broad access has been replaced by practically no access, with some chambers offering no pupillages at all”

In an era when the Bar has been digesting various reports on diversity and access, and where some argue there is a significant over supply of students to the number of pupillages available (also training contracts for would be solicitors), Charles Miskin QC may have a point – at least if bar students are to have a better chance  of getting the opportunity of completing pupillage;  even if no tenancy is forthcoming at the end of it.  Unfortunately, this would also increase the would be barrister’s debt – and with BPTC fees coming in at a hefty £15,000+  (and law schools have not only upped their fees, they have upped their deposit requirements) – this is a very hefty debt burden.  It will only get worse, of course, with the desire of most universities to be part of the £9000 a year club for student fees.

I asked for views on twitter and received quite a few replies replies.   I quote a few of those responses below:

* Back to the bad old days and the Bar not being an option for those of my background eh?
* I think there’s an argument to be made in favour if funded pupillages place an artificial restriction to entry.
* unpaid pupillages will make the bar the preserve of those who can afford to come here. Young Barristers’ Committee against suggn
* on unpaid pupillages. Would count me out the profession – and I wouldn’t have even tried in first place. So its bonkers.
* i’ve been banging the drum for some time on this, but glad now appears some traction since charlie’s endorsement.
* yes. Given barristers are self employed, req that pup be paid anomaly
head of my set is still perplexed that I’m not paying chambers for my learning experience!

* Seem apposite to re-post my piece from 2009: http://bit.ly/i5ZDOo
* That seems a very god idea. Alt pupillages with alt business structures.

* Real issue is the appropriate size of the profession. No point having more pupillages if the number of tenancies remains static!
also now we cant cross qual as solicitor until after pupillage cost of unpaid pupillage < cost of LPC?

* Arguably what is required now is an alternative mechanism to approach pupillage.

*  unpaid pupillages will surely be limited to those with means, thus defeating any diversification of the bar?
*  Think cost of BPTC is the barrier, borrowing living expenses for 1st 6 and hope for some income in 2nd 6 less scary
*  Without a doubt when pupillages were unpaid,opportunities were indeed more available & the profession less restricted.
* and what would pupils do who don’t get tenancy? Huge debt incurred and no way to repay it.

* Re unpaid pupillages- that’s likely to help increase diversity at the bar isn’t it?

* Charlie Miskin pro unpaid pupillages – does he have a point as no of pupillages now lower? – or is it kinder to limit entry?
* Interesting points raised. Arguably though,if pupillages are unpaid,that would create a bar 2 the Bar for a wide group

* He’s picked his moment, hasn’t he, what with all the “unpaid internships as bastion of privilege” stuff in the news…

* Oh but I’ve seen many good people in the old days, unable to get on because of unpaid pupillages. The law needs a good mix.*

The above tweets were all on the public twitter timeline and give a fairly good view of sentiment on this issue. I have removed the identity of the tweeters, simply to preserve their discretion – and I do hope they don’t mind not being identified on this occasion. A quick look at my ‘mentions’ on twitter will provide full attribution for the tweets above.
I’m not sure.  I can see the benefit to a student determined to get pupillage experience, but I can also see the value of the sentiment that paid pupillages allow people from less well off backgrounds – and there are many in that category who wish to practise at the bar – to have access to the profession. At the risk of seeming crass – why not a mix of paid and unpaid pupillages?  Would that be divisive? Would that be impossible to organise?   Your thoughts and comments are most welcome.

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In The Sun this morning, under the headline “TAKE HIM DOWN” the deputy political editor writes: “TOP judges last night blasted Ken Clarke’s soft-touch plans to HALVE the time some criminals serve in prison. The revolt was sparked by the Justice Secretary’s proposals to halve sentences for offenders who plead guilty early. They were included in Mr Clarke’s controversial sentencing white paper published last year – and rubbished last night in the judges’ formal response. Lord Justice Thomas, the Queen’s bench Division vice-president, and Lord Justice Goldring, England and Wales senior presiding judge, said: “In our view, it would not be right neither as a matter of principle nor as a matter of practice to go beyond a maximum discount of one third.”

This report is part of a continuing attack by The Sun on Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke.  The Sun does not approve of Ken Clarke’s moderate and ‘unpatriotic (?)’ stance on law and order. Interesting to see the judges, apparently, weighing in. I am no expert on  prison policy, but it does seem to many that we have far too many people in prison for relatively minor offences – at significant cost to the public purse; money which could be put to better use in providing access to legal representation and justice?

And another example of government interference – perhaps not fully thought through?….

Legal Services Board rebuffs Djanogly on ILEX rights

James Dean, in The Law Society Gazette writes: “The Legal Services Board has dismissed a call by justice minister Jonathan Djanogly for it to consult more widely on proposals to extend the rights of legal executives to conduct litigation and appear in court.

Last week, Djanogly told the House of Commons that an application by the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) to the LSB to extend the litigation rights of ILEX members was ‘unusual’ and merited ‘wider consultation and engagement’. But a spokesman for the LSB this week told the Gazette: ‘We have not and do not currently intend to consult more widely.’ The LSB is considering whether or not to allow legal executives to conduct litigation and appear before the courts in civil and family proceedings, and to deliver probate services…”

One wonders what the government is going to pull out of the hat for their next trick on justice and the legal system. Cuts to legal aid and  closure of courts plans are already having an impact….. do it yourself justice next?  Ah.. the old litigant in person stunt… very Big Society?  Perhaps a bit of trial by ordeal to save money?  Ducking stools in every town?

On to more sensible analysis from the UK Human Rights Blog : Police, Protests and other Hot Potatoes- the Human Rights Roundup

I enjoyed the piece on Burglar human rights  by Matthew Flynn of the UK Human Rights blog: “The proposition that burglars have rights incites debate, and sometimes anger, which is often directed towards the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention of Human Rights. However, on closer examination, the idea of “burglars’ rights” is not a new phenomenon in English law, and nor has it been imposed upon us by Strasbourg. The rights that burglars enjoy have long been part of the fabric of English common law”

Judges tell Theresa May to revoke ‘flawed’ control order on terror suspect

The Guardian: Court of appeal gives the home secretary 48 hours to drop the control order or get a new one – ‘if she considers it necessary’

I missed this story the other morning.  Maybe I am reading more into it than it merits – but this Court of Appeal intervention is fairly robust and calls into question the competence of the Home Secretary and her officials?  Perhaps those readers with more experience of  government would comment?

Three appeal court judges ruled that the order imposed on BM, a 38-year-old British national, was so flawed that it could not be allowed to stand. They gave the home secretary 48 hours to comply with the ruling and to obtain a new order “if she considers it necessary to do so”.

Lord Justice Sedley, Lord Justice Thomas and Lord Justice Hopper also ordered that a prosecution against BM for breaching the control order be discontinued.

And finally for the time being.. Alex Aldridge, writing in The Guardian, notes….

Legal aid cuts will put pressure on students to do more pro bono work

Pity the poor law students of 2012. Not only will they face tuition fees of £9,000 a year, but they’ll be under pressure to do much more free legal work to help fill the gap created by the legal aid cuts.

I’m all for students doing pro bono work – but I don’t think it is credible policy for the good work being done by many university law school pro bono units to be a part of government policy on access to justice.

“Frankly, we’re very worried, as there’s already a tremendous demand for our students’ services as it is,” says John Fitzpatrick, director of Kent Law Clinic, the pro bono service of Kent University which won best law school at the annual LawWorks and attorney general student pro bono awards on Wednesday.

And really finally…. I am grateful to fellow tweeter @pugandwhistle for drawing my attention to this... “An email promoting a ‘Beaujolais breakfast’ at Corney & Barrow wine bars has been banned after advertising watchdogs said it could encourage irresponsible drinking.”

I find, on a Sunday morning, that a glass of red makes both breakfast and the newspapers more amusing. Sir John Mortimer QC, who regularly came to speak to students when I was CEO at BPP Law School in the 1990s, told me that a glass of champagne at 6.00 am was a useful aid to life.  It didn’t do him any harm…quite the opposite, I suspect, judging by his excellent writing.


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