A London commercial chambers has put up £20,000 to fund a pupillage that a criminal set has had to withdraw because of the impact of Covid-19.
The move has been hailed by the Bar Council and barristers as emblematic of the spirit of the Bar while complaining that it would not have been necessary had the government provided proper support during the pandemic.
Keating Chambers, home to 30 QCs and 35 juniors, said it acted after hearing that some criminal sets had no choice but to withdraw pupillage offers for this month due to financial pressures caused by Covid-19.
Head of chambers Marcus Taverner QC said: “The financial impact of the pandemic has been felt particularly by the criminal Bar.
“Commercial sets are in the fortunate position of being hit less hard. We took a decision to provide support for the vital work carried out by the criminal Bar in the legal system of England and Wales in these very difficult times.”
Last week, the Bar Standards Board said the number of chambers delaying pupillages that were due to start this month or next was likely to have a knock-on effect on the supply of places until 2022.
The biggest impact has been in the areas of law most affected by court closures, particularly those in family and crime, the regulator said, with previous research highlighting how junior members of the Bar were worst hit by lockdown.
Applications for the Keatings funding should be made directly to the Criminal Bar Association.
On Twitter, the association said: “Thank you to Keating Chambers for their solidarity. However it is not right that criminal lawyers are bailed out by other areas. @hmtreasury must offer support for the criminal Bar. It is the most junior who suffer first, there should be support for retention and diversity.”
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “Keating Chambers’ outstandingly generous offer to fund a pupillage is the mark of a truly unified and supportive profession where those in more robust practice areas are prepared to support the future of another part of the Bar which is struggling to survive, let alone expand. What an example of solidarity.
“It need hardly be said that it should not be necessary for publicly funded sets doing work for the most vulnerable to rely on charity but, regrettably, the government has not supported them or the most junior barristers who would become the expert advocates of the future.
“Acts of kindness are not a replacement for sustainable funding for criminal practitioners, who receive much of their income from legal aid, without which their chambers are unable to pay for pupillages.
“The wider private Bar cannot always be expected to bail out a vital public service that should be properly funded by government.”
Criminal law barrister Max Hardy of 9 Bedford Row in London added: “Huge kudos to Keating and I hope many others follow suit. But (and this is in no way ingratitude) it is outrageous that the Criminal Bar is having to be subsidised by the Commercial Bar. Just imagine if NHS Covid doctors had to rely on a whip-round by Harley Street?”
Collette Price, head of North-East set Fountain Chambers, added: “Shouldn’t have to happen but well done for stepping up. Spirit of the Bar in action.”