Criminal law bigwigs float hybrid prosecution-defence career path to tackle ‘unprecedented recruitment crisis’

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By Polly Botsford on

A training contract of two halves?

Bar and solicitor representatives are hatching plans to review career paths in criminal law to encourage more law students into it.

Chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) Angela Rafferty QC on the barrister side, and Richard Atkinson, chair of the Criminal Law Committee (CLC) at the Law Society, representing solicitors, have come together hoping to find ways to recruit the next generation of criminal lawyers.

Rafferty told CBA members:

“The bar and the solicitors’ profession face an unprecedented recruitment crisis and we must act now to avoid future decimation of both. We are working with the Law Society’s criminal law committee in starting to tackle this problem in a unified and strategic way.”

Press reports also indicate that this could include making it easier for trainees and young lawyers to gain experience at both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and work with defendants at a criminal law firm. It is understood that both the CBA and CLC are in discussions with Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions (and ‘first lawyer’ in the CPS), to that end.

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Recruitment and retention is a key issue for the bar. Research by the Bar Council last year shows that over the past decade the number of barristers who are 10-15 years’ call is down by 10%, the number of barristers in the five to ten year bracket is down by 20%; in the zero to fives years’ bracket, numbers have reduced by a shocking 30%.

Rafferty wrote in an update this week:

“Highly talented and committed junior barristers are leaving crime in droves — most citing the lack of financial certainty. Without investment in criminal legal aid both barristers and solicitors will see our numbers continue to haemorrhage.”

The unglamorous life at the criminal bar is well-known with barristers often earning less at a hearing than the cost of the train fare to the court.

The dire financial position of juniors is also the subject of the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) Future of the Bar consultation which explores, among other elements, whether or not the minimum pupillage award (currently a meagre £12,000) should be increased.

Last week, the CBA responded to the BSB consultation proposing that the award be increased to the Living Wage.

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