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Inns scholarship money wasted on ‘expensive, unproductive’ BPTC, says former Lord Chief Justice

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Entry to the bar could be on the verge of a historic overhaul

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Lord Judge has weighed into the increasingly urgent discussion about the dysfunctional system of entry to the bar.

In a remarkably frank admission that the combined model of Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and pupillage is not working — both for students and the legal system — the former Lord Chief Justice wrote in this month’s Counsel Magazine:

“Of every 2,000 men and women who join the Inns every year in order to be called, fewer than 400 will find a pupillage, let alone a tenancy, and of those 400 the available pupillages will rarely be in publicly funded sets.

“The end result is that a great deal of the Inns’ money is spent on helping young men and women go on expensive courses which will be unproductive of entrance to an area of the bar which affects the public interest”.

Rather than blow the Inns’ annual scholarship pot of £5 million on wannabe barristers, Judge suggested that a portion of it be diverted to help bar rookies at publicly-funded sets as they struggle through the early years of pupillage and tenancy.

“My own belief,” he expanded, “is that we should acknowledge the new world, and return to the days when more funding was made available for those who had been called, and in a tenancy, in order to support them.”

Judge’s words come as the profession chews over the Jeffrey Report, which envisages a major shrinking of the bar — accounted for largely by a sharp decline in criminal barristers.

The report also predicts what is being termed “backdoor fusion” of the two branches of the legal profession, as funding constraints force all lawyers working in legal aid to start out as solicitors. A handful of stars with a talent for advocacy would then, so the theory goes, become barristers in a model similar to the Australian system.

Meanwhile, in a further sign that change is in the air, the Bar Standards Board has launched a consultation that will see the future of the BPTC considered and ways sought “to improve the experience of pupillage”.

Currently the BPTC costs almost £18,000. 1,732 students enrolled on the course in 2011-2012 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), with 438 pupillages available that year. Ominously, 28.6% of these pupillages were in crime, more than double the proportion of any other practice area.

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