Bar Council chair urges party leaders to commit funding for 100 extra criminal pupillages

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By Rhys Duncan on

‘Eye-catching manifesto’

Sam Townend KC – credit: @thebarcouncil (X)

The new chair of the Bar Council has called on political party leaders to pledge funding for additional criminal pupillages as the backlog in criminal cases reaches unprecedented levels.

Delivering his inaugural speech at Lincoln’s Inn this week, Sam Townend KC suggested “an eye-catching manifesto commitment to match-funding 100 additional criminal pupillages, perhaps badged as up to 500 new prosecutors in five years, at a cost of no more than £1.5 million per year”.

The match-funding scheme, currently run by The Council of the Inns of Court, provides chambers with a grant to cover part of a pupillage award or an additional pupillage. The scheme is predominantly used by sets engaged in legal aid funded work, and supported 33 pupillages last year.

The chair’s appeal comes as the crown court backlog exceeded 66,000 for the first time ever, with the new chair describing the criminal and family justice systems as “at the point of structural failure”.

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Elsewhere in his speech, Townend KC reiterated the Bar Council’s stance on the timing of when students are called to the bar. The current position, whereby the title barrister is imparted before students have completed their training and are entitled to practice, he said, creates “consumer detriment associated with clear confusion as to who is entitled to call themselves barrister and who is not”, in addition to placing the “unfair cost burden” of regulating all 70,000+ barristers on just the 18,000 who are practicing.

Also raised were the issues that the current timing “gives false encouragement to those who have little prospect of obtaining a pupillage” and that “the thousands being called each year are likely to discourage those, without the benefit of a bank of Mum and Dad, who might otherwise take the risk of incurring the costs of training and to seek pupillage.”

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