Charter Chambers: legal aid cuts to “destroy the whole notion of pupillage”

Charter Chambers, which this year took the decision to stop offering pupillages, has stated that the current legal aid cuts will combine with the introduction of best value tendering (BVT) to “destroy the whole notion of pupillage”.

Henry Grunwald QC supported this view, stated by chambers director Ian Payn, saying: “Any set of chambers which is dependent on public work for its fee income will be in a very difficult position. The personal injury bar also faces an uncertain future with the changes that are taking place there. They too are getting to have problems with funding pupillages.”

Grunwald continued: “The effect of the price competitive tendering is going to destroy hundreds of law firms up and down the country who will not be able to bid for contracts and it will destroy the client base for many, many established institutions.”

He conceded that non-legal aid chambers, such as commercial and chancery, would continue to offer funded pupillages but said that it was not fair or realistic for Charter Chambers to offer pupillages at the moment.

He explained: “It is not fair to offer a pupillage to people when the uncertainty of whether there will be work for them to do is so great.

“It was a very difficult decision. We showed our pupils that we cared, we advised them, we trained them and ensured that they had the work they needed and we did it in such a way that it was rare for us not to take a pupil on.”

When asked whether the decision meant that Charter had cut off the supply of young talent to the set, Grunwald replied: “You talk of cutting off life blood, but that is assuming that life will continue. Our fear is that it won’t.

“That is not an over-reaction on our part. You have to see what the government is intending to do (on BVT) and realise that far from helping the junior bar, which they claim to do, it is making it much more difficult for them. Far from opening up access to justice, it is going to make it so much more difficult.

He continued: “It will be unbelievably damaging to the publicly funded bar and that will inevitably mean that there will be a massive reduction in the number of pupillages. That will have a knock-on effect on the number of people coming to the law.

“It is going to become much more difficult. There is not going to be much of a publicly funded criminal bar for people to aspire to come to.”

Payn added: “If the cuts do not take effect in such a way as to destroy the whole notion of pupillage – the current effect – then rest assured we’ll be straight back in. But until then we don’t feel that we should be offering something which we are in no position to deliver.

“The direct effect of these cuts on the Bar is bad enough, but these side-effects are appalling, and unconsidered.”

Bar Professional Training Course fees have been hiked this year by almost every major provider, with one raising the price by more than 10 per cent (6 March 2013).