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BSB decision to stop former chief constable self-funding pupillage upheld


Davies: fairness and equality of opportunity

A barristers’ chambers which offered an unfunded pupillage to a former police chief constable has lost its appeal against a Bar Standards Board decision that the move ran foul of equality rules designed to stop ‘rich kids’ from self-funding.

The former policewoman came third in merit on the crime specialist chambers’ list, behind two candidates who received funded pupillages worth £13,000 a year each.

The chambers, New Park Court (NPC), based in Leeds and Newcastle, could not afford a third and applied for a waiver from Bar Standards Board (BSB) regulations because the applicant could afford to fund the pupillage herself.

In special cases, the BSB can grant waivers to the decade-old ban on self-funding, designed to prevent privileged applicants benefitting from family wealth. Instances can include when an applicant has a specialist qualification and the pupillage is in a niche area of practice.

NPC argued that the applicant’s extensive experience would bring exceptional value and experience to the chambers, particularly its criminal law practice. Nonetheless, the BSB refused to grant a waiver.

On appeal, Sir Anthony May – the former president of the Queen’s Bench Division sitting as a Visitor of the Inns of Court, the Bar’s appellate body – ruled that while the applicant was “of high calibre” and her qualifications were relevant to the set’s practice, the policy was “rational and understandable” and the BSB had been justified in refusing to grant a waiver.

NPC’s chief executive, Michael Meeson, expressed frustration at the ruling, saying: “We saw fit to challenge the decision simply because we felt we had treated her fairly. We had asked her view and we felt we were following the BSB’s general wishes to offer as many places as possible in the profession. We were surprised by their failure to grant us a waiver.”

He continued: “We are obviously disappointed but we have to move forward, having received the decision… We made our application entirely upfront, entirely transparently, answering all the questions that were asked of us… We even quoted in our side of the case various commentary by leading members of the Bar, confirming that it is right, proper and the way forward that as many people as possible should be encouraged into the profession.”

BSB director Dr Vanessa Davies said: “The Visitors have upheld the decision of our qualifications committee. There are training regulations and rules in the Code of Conduct to promote fairness and equality of opportunity, to which we are committed as a regulator.

“Unless there are exceptional circumstances, all pupillages must be funded before they can be offered. This is to ensure that those who may not be in the financial position to self-fund are not put at an unfair disadvantage.”

NPC’s criminal team has 77 members, of which nine are QCs, including its head of chambers Robert Smith QC. It describes itself as having “one of the most established and widely experienced criminal teams on the North-Eastern Circuit”.

The chambers’ published pupillage policy is that pupils are awarded £13,000 a year, made up of a grant of £6,000 in the first six months, plus guaranteed earnings of £7,000 in the second six months.