Paul Ekperigin wanted to skip first half of training based on his work experience
The acute shortage of pupillage spaces was acknowledged by the High Court yesterday as it dismissed an attempt by a wannabe barrister to skip the “first six” stage of barrister training.
Paul Ekperigin, who was called to the bar in 2011 but hasn’t been able to get pupillage, appealed against the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) refusal to waive part of the training requirement. The regulator had insisted that working as a lawyer couldn’t replace the first six stage of qualification as a barrister.
Rejecting the appeal, Mr Justice Holman pointed out that “there is currently, and has for some time been, an acute shortage of pupillage places such that a far greater number of people are being called to the Bar than there are pupillages available for”.
Ekperigin told the court that he had made 100 pupillage applications between 2011 and 2016 and only got two interviews. The BSB had granted him a reduction in the required length of pupillage, from 12 months to eight months overall, but Ekperigin pressed for a total exemption from the first six stage. He argued that his work experience, as a lawyer employed by Harrow and Barnet councils, should entitle him to skip the first six months of pupillage altogether.
The work involved possession claims against tenants who hadn’t paid their rent, with Ekperigin handling between 40 and 60 cases at a time and regularly appearing in court. His boss, however, admitted that the organisation didn’t train pupil barristers and that Ekperigin worked independently with minimal supervision.
By contrast, a pupil barrister is supposed to “shadow” their pupil master during their first six. Holman said:
“The metaphor of a ‘shadow’ is of a person attached to their pupil supervisor as closely as a shadow is attached to the body casting the shadow. The first six months of a pupillage is not about ‘independence’ or ‘limited supervision’, but, on the contrary, about constant close proximity, so that the pupil sees or hears everything done and said by the pupil supervisor, and is indeed able to discuss it with him or her.”
The judge also doubted that an employed lawyer could experience “the sort of osmosis that is expected to take place from close proximity to a practising barrister”.
An impressed Holman did say that Ekperigin, who represented himself, had been “clear and cogent” and “demonstrated a mastery of the documents”. He wished the unsuccessful appellant “good luck in the future and in his continued quest ultimately to emerge as a fully qualified practising barrister”.
Ekperigin, a graduate of the University of Abuja in Nigeria, has a master’s in petroleum law from the University of Dundee and studied the Bar Vocational Course (now Bar Professional Training Course) at City University, according to a LinkedIn profile. He was called to the bar by Middle Temple in 2011.
There are 400-450 pupillage spots available in England and Wales each year, whereas around 1,500 take the BPTC (and have five years to apply for pupillage after graduating). Fewer than 40% of BPTC graduates will ever get pupillage.
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