Deferring point of call will damage diversity and inns, says top KC

Hockman: Students will choose to become solicitors instead

Delaying the point at which barristers are called to the Bar until after obtaining pupillage risks reducing the diversity and strength of the profession, a former Bar Council chair has argued.

Stephen Hockman KC, joint head of chambers at 6 Pump Court, also outlined his concern about the impact it could have on the inns of court – he is master of the bench at Middle Temple

He was writing in the Bar Council’s Counsel magazine in response to an article last month by then Bar Council chair Nick Vineall and Fallon Alexis, vice-chair of its education and training committee, which said the move could help social mobility at the Bar.

Mr Hockman, who chaired the Bar Council in 2006, said deferring call would place the decision as to who was willing and able to apply to join an inn of court “almost exclusively in the hands of existing sets of chambers/employers, who alone can decide to whom to offer pupillages, and who cannot be criticised for adopting a potentially restrictive stance on this issue”.

He explained: “It seems to me self-evident that if we move to a system in which no one can even be eligible to be called to the Bar unless and until they have completed pupillage, then the number of those seeking to join an inn of court is bound to drop sharply and significantly, with many bright graduates choosing instead to follow the path to becoming a solicitor.”

Mr Vineall and Ms Fallon acknowledged that their suggestion would reduce the number of people undertaking the Bar course.

Mr Hockman went on: “The net result will be a branch of the profession which is gradually less diverse, and certainly perceived as less diverse and more socially exclusive.

“It will also be a profession which is very unlikely to expand at anything like the rate at which it has expanded during our professional lifetimes, and indeed it will be a profession which will fairly soon start to contract in numbers.

“Yet the future of the Bar as a separate branch of the legal profession, and the future of self-regulation under the Bar Standards Board, is inextricably linked to the size and numerical strength of the profession.

“We cannot hope to exercise continuing influence, both within the legal profession itself and more widely, unless we maintain and indeed increase our numbers as we have done steadily over the last 50 years.”

He was also concerned about the impact on foreign students: “Our tradition of enabling students from overseas to be called to the Bar has not only achieved the surely desirable objective of strengthening our links with a good number of overseas jurisdictions.

“Perhaps more importantly it has encouraged the preservation of the tradition of specialist advocacy in those jurisdictions and thereby strengthened the rule of law in those countries.”

Mr Hockman said the move would reduce almost to zero the number of people joining the inns from abroad. This would not only “diminish the historic role of the inns overseas”, but also lead to a “drastic reduction in the number of those participating in call ceremonies, which will soon become a very visible symbol of the inns’ diminished role”.

The overall impact of the change, the KC argued, would likely be “to put our branch of the profession on a downward path, at the very least from a reputational point of view, just at the moment when it is already vulnerable to competition in the commercial sphere from the major law firms, and by reason of funding constraints in the publicly funded sphere”.

It would also hinder the inns in their ability, post-pandemic, “to re-invigorate their lettings arrangements”.

Given this, he said the possible confusion of the role of someone called but not yet authorised to practise “can carry little weight”.

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