Scrap BPTC in favour of two year pupillage, urges bar chief

Avatar photo

By Thomas Connelly on

Top crime QC says bar course only benefits law schools and London’s landlords


The head of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has called for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) to be axed in favour of a two year-long regulated pupillage.

Mark Fenhalls QC revealed his revolutionary idea at the Bar Council’s annual conference over the weekend, where he suggested that chambers could do a better job than law schools in preparing aspiring barristers for life at the bar.

The 23 Essex Street barrister took the opportunity to trumpet his proposal once again today in a weekly blog he writes as CBA chairman. In it, he asks:

So what does the BPTC course actually provide by way of benefit to prospective barristers? Is there anything in it that could not be equally well (or better) taught as part of a carefully regulated longer (2 year?) pupillage?

The crime specialist, continuing, argued that the only people to benefit from studying the BPTC in London — where fees are in excess of £18,000 — are the “owners of the BPTC and the landlords of the students”.

Fenhalls then called on his fellow barristers to undertake a period of self-reflection with regards the one year course, writing:

In every industry, people are asking questions about whether further education (sometimes at vast expense) actually helps develop the right skills to flourish. The bar needs to take a long hard look at whether or not there is any need for the BPTC at all. I am beginning to think that all the necessary skills could be taught during pupillage, when our prospective talents could work, earn money and start to build their careers. Why not, for example, have modular courses taught by properly accredited barristers in practise that fit around and within pupillage?

The CBA chief acknowledged the plight of many students who are being “churned through the system” with little hope of ever securing pupillage, while also suggesting that those students lucky enough to make it are being put off publicly-funded work due to the “extraordinarily high” levels of debt they are being lumbered with.

Fenhalls’ two-year pupillage idea follows his suggestion last month that the legal profession go so far as to buy junior barristers’ debt. And it comes amid an open consultation into the future of legal education at the bar.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) led initiative — which closes on 30 October — is keen to discover the thoughts and opinions of students and barristers. So expect more radical ideas on such matters in the next couple of weeks.