High Court refuses employed lawyer pupillage exemption

High Court: First six months of pupillage is about constant close proximity to supervisor

The High Court has a rejected a challenge to a decision by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) refusing to grant an exemption from the first non-practising stage of pupillage.

Mr Justice Holman said that although Paul Ekperigin’s work for local authority alternative business structure HB Public Law had shown his ability to work independently, that was “the antithesis of what is contemplated by the non-practising first stage of a pupillage”.

Holman J said published material from the BSB made it clear that during the non-practising period, pupils “shadow” their pupil supervisor.

“The metaphor of a ‘shadow’ is of a person attached to their pupil supervisor as closely as a shadow is attached to the body casting the shadow.

“The first six months of a pupillage is not about ‘independence’ or ‘limited supervision’, but, on the contrary, about constant close proximity, so that the pupil sees or hears everything done and said by the pupil supervisor, and is indeed able to discuss it with him or her.”

The court heard in Ekperigin v Bar Standards Board [2019] EWHC 1292 (Admin) that Paul Ekperigin, who completed the Bar vocational course in August 2011, had already secured a reduction from six to four months in both the non-practising and practising stages of pupillage in 2016.

At that point, he told the BSB that he had made around 100 pupillage applications over a period of six years and was only invited for two first-round interviews.

After receiving the reduction, he made a further 12 applications which resulted in one unsuccessful interview.

Mr Ekperigin then secured a role as an employed lawyer at HB Public Law, which provides legal services for Harrow, Barnet and other London councils.

Holman J said: “The essence of the appellant’s application for a complete dispensation from the non-practising stage of the pupillage was, and is, that through his work with HB Public Law he has been exposed to, and acquired, a range of legal experiences at least equal to those that he might acquire through the non-practising stage of a pupillage.

“He says, further, that whilst working for HB Public Law he was appropriately supervised by more experienced lawyers and so the required element of supervision was present in his work.”

Holman J said a BSB official rejected Mr Ekperigin’s application for exemption in May 2018. It was rejected again by the authorisations review panel in September 2018, partly on the grounds of insufficient supervision of his work.

Holman J said HB Public Law supervised trainee solicitors and supported staff seeking to qualify as legal executives, but did not provide pupil barrister training.

The judge said Mr Ekperigin had his own caseload to manage of between 40-60 cases, most of them possession claims, and “had appeared as an advocate in many court hearings”.

His performance was “entirely satisfactory”, but it was not his performance that was “in issue”.

Holman J said there was “a very distinct purpose and importance” in the non-practising stage of a pupillage.

“It is the stage in which, by a form of ‘osmosis’, a barrister at the outset of his career learns and absorbs what it is to be a barrister, the conduct and etiquette that is required and expected of a barrister, and the attributes that are required of a barrister in dealing with a client, with courts, with instructing solicitors and with opponent lawyers.

“The importance of all of this can clearly be seen from the ‘pupillage checklist’, which a pupil supervisor is required to complete and sign at the end of both the first and the second stages of a pupillage.

“Frankly, although the appellant has worked well and entirely satisfactorily for HB Public Law, there is simply nothing to indicate that he had the level of supervision and scrutiny that is contemplated by being a ‘shadow’ of a pupil supervisor, and nothing to indicate that he had much proximity at all to a registered pupil supervisor barrister.”

Holman J concluded that the BSB’s decision was “not wrong” and was “wholly justifiable and right”.

The judge added that Mr Ekperigin, who represented himself at the High Court, had “demonstrated to me his own strengths (and some weaknesses) as an advocate”.

Holman J went on: “He has been clear and cogent. He has demonstrated a mastery of the documents. He has displayed the utmost courtesy to the court, even when things were not going his way.

“These are all hallmarks of good advocacy and tend to indicate the degree of experience that the appellant has already obtained as an advocate.”

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