5 Essex Court

The Legal Cheek View

One phrase crops up repeatedly when describing the work at civil law chambers 5 Essex Court ― “high-profile”. The set is particularly well known for its police law work, which throws up a range of fascinating issues, and also specialises in public inquiries, inquests, employment, public and administrative law, and personal injury and clinical negligence.

With more than 40 barristers including five QCs, this London set aims to recruit two pupils each year and offers the chance to get stuck in to interesting cases from the off. One barrister tells us: “I’m a junior member of chambers but regularly get instructed in cases that make national and international headlines. The areas of law we are working in are at the forefront of public debate. I am constantly involved in cases that make new law.”

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In recent years juniors in chambers have appeared in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the Anthony Grainger Inquiry, the Renewable Heat Incentive Inquiry, the Undercover Policing Inquiry, the Al Sweady Inquiry, the Baha Mousa Inquiry, the Leveson Inquiry and the Hillsborough Inquests. As one barrister puts it: “Our work is often in the news, which is exciting. It combines great human interest with some really interesting law ― often novel arguments are pursued in claims against our clients.”

A sample clutch of recent cases includes a historic ruling in Jersey Employment Tribunal on the meaning of ‘disability’, a landmark appeal regarding confidentiality of information provided by refugees, and the first case to consider the use of facial recognition technology by the police. 5 Essex Court silks have appeared in a case of alleged misfeasance in public office after a murder trial collapsed, and in the case of Harry Dunn, who died following a collision with Anne Sacoolas, who then cited diplomatic immunity. One junior says: “I can honestly say in the nearly three years I’ve been in chambers, I’ve never worked on a boring case!”

Former pupils are particularly complimentary about the chambers’ “fantastic” in-house advocacy training course, where pupils benefit from the tuition of “Inner Temple advocacy guru” Master Alastair Hodge. Pupil supervisors are “dedicated and generous with their time”. In-house seminars and lectures where more senior members of chambers pass on their knowledge to all members and regular informal chats mean “the training in chambers never stops”.

Members praise the set’s “open-door” policy, which continued (metaphorically, at least) during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is quite a feat that one former pupil, who had to complete his second six remotely, “still felt included, assisted, and looked after”. A tenant, forced to cancel their wedding due to the pandemic, was sent a gift by chambers to boost their morale during a difficult time, and says: “Even in lockdown, it is easy to call anyone in chambers and ask for help if needed.” Another barrister explains how “even now, in times of COVID, we regularly bounce ideas off each other on email or WhatsApp”.

Style-wise, the Temple-based chambers are “gloriously Dickensian”, although they have “excellent video conferencing facilities”. What’s more, there’s a far from stuffy atmosphere. The head of chambers, no less, makes tea for everyone on Fridays, although, during the pandemic, this tradition moved online with chambers tea via Zoom.

What The Junior Barristers Say

“There’s no pomp and circumstance” at 5 Essex Court, says John Goss, who studied law as a postgrad at Nottingham Law School after serving as a Royal Engineer officer in the British Army for six years, some of which was spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having turned his energies to training for the bar, Goss joined 5 Essex Court as a pupil in 2015. “It’s a genuinely unstuffy, open and informal chambers,” he adds.

This is despite the fact that the work is high profile and not for the faint-hearted. In the second four months of his pupillage, Goss was working on one of the inquests to come out of four deaths at the Army’s Deepcut barracks in Camberley in the late 1990s. “I would do a first draft of something and then my supervisor, Francesca Whitelaw, would look at it. So at a very early stage, I had a real sense of contributing to what chambers was doing,” he recalls.

Goss says that the chambers provides particularly broad-based advocacy training: “For a civil set, 5 Essex Court has plenty of opportunity for court exposure. For instance, we do inquests and these are very different from civil courts because they often have a jury where the police are involved. There are plenty of opportunities to really examine evidence. Because they are neither purely civil nor criminal courts, it’s quite an unusual experience.”

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5 Essex Court’s bread and butter work at the junior end is police law work, in Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts representing police forces on operational orders such as anti-social behaviour injunctions or cash forfeitures. “Often you are the only one in court who knows much about the applications,” says Goss. Plus sometimes you get to feel that you have made a difference to peoples’ lives: “I did a recent closure order for the police where they were applying to extend the closure of a space that had been used for drug dealing. I had statements from residents who were saying how amazing it was to have it closed.”

In case that is not training enough, 5 Essex Court is lucky to have Alastair Hodge who teaches advocacy and is an Honorary Professor at Nottingham Law School: “There is no formal training course but we all take a bit of time out during pupillage to do sessions with him and get some feedback from a real master,” says Goss. In addition, there are talks from various members of chambers.

Mentoring is done informally: “We are a small, very friendly set so all the juniors are talking to each other pretty much all of the time, and pupils are very much part of that: it is a rare day that I wouldn’t talk to another junior about something. And this goes all the way ‘up’ the chambers. I would not hesitate to talk to our seniors too.”

Alongside the advocacy experience, Goss has built up drafting, advising and research skills along the way. In his third seat, with Jason Beer QC as his supervisor, he was helping Beer on public law work often “going through evidence finding lines for cross examination.”

Goss’s first case was doing minicab licence renewals where Transport for London had decided not to renew a driver’s minicab licence: “It was coalface experience: you have to do closing submissions, you have to be able to think on your feet,” he remembers.

Now Goss, whose first degree was in classics at Cambridge University, from where he graduated in 2006, is working on another Deepcut inquest, this time on the death of Sean Benton whose family has reopened the matter.

So what advice would he give to someone who wanted to apply for pupillage at 5 Essex Court? “You must have a good understanding of the sort of work we do and demonstrate that you would be really interested in doing our type of work,” he responds. “Yes it’s police law but it’s not only police law, we do central government work, there is a real range. Also, it’s the defendant side of public law and you need to understand that you have to be sensitive to client’s needs and appreciate the statutory duties they are under”.

And PS: “We publish a report from each pupillage application round which tells us what we are looking for, and what were some of the good answers. For us this is about transparency. We do not want anyone to have an innate advantage: anyone can apply. So make sure you read the material — it’s really useful.”

Deadlines

Mini-Pupillage

February-March 2021
Applications close 30/11/2020

Mini-Pupillage

June-July 2021
Applications close 31/03/2021

Mini-Pupillage

October-November 2021
Applications close 31/07/2021

Insider Scorecard

A*
Training
A*
Quality of work
A*
Colleagues
B
Facilities
A
Work/life balance

Insider Scorecard Grades range from A* to D and are derived from the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2020-21 of over 600 barristers at the leading chambers in England.

Key Info

Juniors 39
QCs 5
Pupillages 2
Oxbridge-educated new tenants* 2/5

*Figure is for the five most junior members of chambers; does not include postgraduate studies.

Money

Pupillage award £55,000
BPTC advance drawdown Discretionary

The 5 Essex Court pupillage award comprises a £30,000 award and £25,000 guaranteed earnings.

Gender Diversity

Female juniors 41%
Female QCs 60%