Exclusive: £22,000 BPTC prize goes to student with very close family connection to Inn
The Inns of Court scholarship process is being questioned after it has emerged that Inner Temple gave its top award this year to the daughter of one of its own benchers.
The £22,000 Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) scholarship — the most prestigious of seven large bursaries awarded by the Inn purely on the basis of merit — went to the daughter of Guy Fetherstonhaugh QC.
Falcon Chambers barrister Fetherstonhaugh is a bencher of Inner Temple, which is an elected position filled by leading lawyers. Benchers are typically responsible for the governance of the Inn, including the supervision of finances.
Make no mistake, Fetherstonhaugh’s daughter — who Legal Cheek doesn’t see much point in naming — is a hotshot who very much fits the profile of the winner of a ‘Peter Taylor Scholarship’, as her award is officially known.
She has a double first in classics from Oxford University and has done a host of mini-pupillages at top London sets, plus work experience at magic circle outfit Slaughter and May. She completed her Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) earlier this year at City University.
But students and junior barristers who Legal Cheek spoke with still judged it as odd that the current bar scholarship system allows an Inn to give money to someone with whom it has close family ties.
With Inner Temple one of four Inns of Court that award funding to wannabe barristers — the others are Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn and Middle Temple — some view it as surprising that there is no rule which requires hopefuls to apply to other Inns where family members occupy bencher roles.
A tradition for barristers’ children to join the same Inns as their parents is one of the reasons that such a rule does not exist. But with bar offspring continuing to regularly make the same career choice as their mums and dads, perhaps it’s time for things to change.
For Inner Temple’s part, the Inn is adamant that Fetherstonhaugh’s daughter received the scholarship fairly and denies that there are any issues with the wider scholarship allocation process. Inner — which this year is providing £1,658,625 in scholarships — issued Legal Cheek with this statement:
Inner Temple Scholarships are awarded entirely on merit and are assessed against five key criteria that have been agreed by the four Inns of Court and are published on the Inn’s website. There is a clear process and marking scheme for interview panels. All of our scholarship interviewers must demonstrate, each year, that they have recently undertaken interview training.
It’s worth noting that some other Inner Temple student awards are allocated on the basis of need as well as merit, but these are usually smaller in value and categorised as “exhibitions”.
On its website, Inner describes the attributes it looks for in a candidate seeking financial assistance, with “intellectual qualities”, “motivation”, “relationships”, “character” and “impact” the key assessment areas. References must also be provided, but these cannot be from members of the student’s family.
The website explains that those called for interview will face a panel of scholarship committee members, with senior members of Inner Temple sometimes assisting the scholarship panel in the interview process.
When contacted by Legal Cheek yesterday, Fetherstonhaugh said:
I had no involvement in any part of the decision-making process that led to my daughter being awarded her scholarship.
Fees for the BPTC have climbed steadily over the past few years, with students who opt to study in London having to find around £18,500 to claim a place on the course. With the cost of living on top of this, scholarships are a vital lifeline for those unable to financially support their legal training.
Inner Temple is among the most pro-active of the Inns in supporting wider access to the bar, working closely with school students to help provide mini-pupillages though the Pegasus Access and Support Scheme.