The Position of Northern Circuit Pupils During Covid-19
- For those in pupillage, this crisis is especially difficult. For most Northern Circuit pupils, the months of March and April marked the beginning of the practising period of pupillage. For them, the long-awaited day of being “on your feet” has been and gone. The expectant pupil remains at home, in lockdown.
- The restrictions in court work and the reduction of new instructions will be having a serious impact on pupils. Their attendance at virtual hearings will be minimal or non-existent. Their opportunities to observe others and to develop their oral advocacy will be very heavily reduced. Some pupils will have a reasonable volume of written work to do. Others will not. The position of criminal pupils is likely to be particularly difficult. There may be pupils who have not yet completed the compulsory courses.
- All pupils are likely to be worried about whether they can meet the competencies in the Professional Statement. Those concerns will be shared by supervisors and AETOs (Authorised Education and Training Organisations – ie Chambers, solicitors’ firms, government departments etc). Pupils who are keeping a Pupillage Diary will be wondering how they can fill it before the end of their second six months. Their major concern will be whether they will be signed off at the end of pupillage as having satisfactorily completed it. A full qualification certificate and a full practising certificate are dependent on that.
Pupillages Should Continue
- The clear aim of the BSB, the Bar Council, the Inns and the Northern Circuit is that pupillages should continue during the current pandemic.
- The Northern Circuit wants to support its pupils, its pupil supervisors and all AETOs. One of the four principles of the new pupillage regime is “flexibility”. Now more than ever is when AETOs need to address that principle, supported by the BSB, the Bar Council, the Inns and the Circuit.
- The Northern Circuit is proud to note that many AETOs are supporting their pupils in every conceivable way. However, these are unchartered waters. Some AETOs may be wondering what their obligations are and how they can best assist their pupils at this challenging time.
- The good news is that it is easy to find the answers to the questions that arise. This document provides links to the relevant pages of the BSB and Bar Council websites where those answers can be found.
Guidance From The BSB
- On 17th March 2020, the BSB issued a wide-ranging statement in response to Covid-19. It can be found here. The BSB website has an excellent section on the particular impact of Covid-19 on pupils. It is constantly updated. It can be found here. This will answer many if not all of the questions that supervisors and AETOs may have about how to continue to offer appropriate training and adequate supervision for pupils during the current crisis. It also addresses concerns about future pupillage arrangements.
- The position of the BSB is simple: AETOs should do all they can to ensure that pupillages can continue during the crisis. AETOs are encouraged to consider other ways to ensure that pupils meet the competencies in the Professional Statement. These include setting more written exercises, organising advocacy exercises by video, making use of any e-learning resources and working collaboratively with other AETOs.
- AETOs are obliged under the BSB Authorisation Framework to have a clear strategy for enabling pupils to achieve the best outcomes possible and to demonstrate the Professional Statement competencies to at least the Threshold Standard. How can this be done if the pupil cannot go to court? We all have think outside the box and to approach the task with an open mind and with flexibility. For example, as some have done on this Circuit, it is possible to seek judicial permission for a pupil to join his/her supervisor or another member of the AETO by attending a remote hearing. Advocacy workshops run by the AETO or by the Circuit will assist pupils. Real efforts should be made to ensure that the pupil has sufficient written work, including research and drafting. Regular communication between pupils and their supervisors and mentors will help to ensure that the pupil feels supported and engaged.
- If an AETO considers that an extension of pupillage is necessary, contact with the BSB is essential. Approval is required and there are forms to complete. After all, such a step would amount to a “material change” in the arrangements for pupillage. The BSB is keen to avoid deferments of or extensions to pupillage if possible. However, the BSB has proved itself approachable, supportive and helpful, time and time again. It is for the AETO/supervisor to make early contact with the BSB if advice is required. Call the BSB on 0207 611 1444 or email email@example.com. Please remember that even in these circumstances, the AETO must ensure that the pupil receives, at least, the minimum level of pupillage funding.
Guidance From The Bar Council
- The Bar Council and Covid-19 Working Group has issued very helpful guidance to the profession. It can be found here. Part of the guidance deals with the position of pupils during the current crisis. It is extremely useful. It can be found here. It dovetails with the advice on the BSB website and makes clear that “as far as possible, pupillage supervision should continue”. There is excellent guidance on the steps to take to ensure that supervision can continue. Supervisors are encouraged to carry out all or part of their supervision remotely, if possible. The Bar Council suggests that current supervisors should be asked to complete a written report of their pupil’s progress to date. The AETO should then review the training programme in line with this report. It will then be possible to make clear (in writing) which parts of the training programme can be carried out remotely and which may need to be put on hold.
- The Bar Council runs a Pupil Helpline: call 0207 611 1415 or email
The Inns of Court
- The Inns will continue to be supportive to all of its members and pupils in particular. The Northern Circuit Daily Bulletins have details of the Inns of Court and Bar Benevolent Association Hardship funds. Pupils, prospective pupils and first year tenants are eligible to apply for financial assistance.
The Northern Circuit
- The Northern Circuit is here to help. We have a fine history of well-organised and supportive pupillage arrangements. Members of the Circuit have invested much time and energy into ensuring that a pupillage in the North is a commodity to be valued extremely highly. A pupillage on this Circuit is designed to lead to security, happiness and success in the profession. This moment in our history does not change any of that. It simply requires a new type of commitment and some flexibility on the part of AETOs, supervisors and pupils. The Northern Circuit will do all it can to support you.
- It is proposed that there will be a programme of Zoom/Skype talks and workshops for current pupils. These will be advertised by email.
- Watch out too for the Advocacy Training sessions coordinated by the Northern Circuit Head of Advocacy, Chris Melton QC, in conjunction with the ICCA (Inns of Court College of Advocacy). These are primarily for pupils in their second six months. Pupils should receive emails about this in mid-April. These measures are designed to assist and support pupils as much as possible during the current lockdown.
- If any member of Circuit, (pupil, supervisor or member of an AETO), has further questions, please do not hesitate to contact David Temkin QC via firstname.lastname@example.org or Jaime Hamilton QC via Hamilton@9sjs.com Please also remember that the Circuit Task Force has a panel of junior members of the Circuit from all disciplines who are available to discuss any concerns that an individual pupil may have in an entirely confidential manner.