Category Archives: General

Save Bailii

You will notice that in some of my posts I link to transcripts of judgments.

These are provided by Bailii, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute. They are a charity that take the judgments of the higher courts, convert them to a simple format and upload them free of charge.

If it were not for Bailii, the only databases of judgments would be the expensive commercial ones such as Lexis Library and Westlaw. While these are excellent, they are so expensive as to make them effectively unavailable as a general database for use by private citizens.

The great advantage Bailii offers you if you are a lay person is that it allows you to go off and check the source of many of the legal stories in the press. You don’t have to rely on a newspaper account, nor do you have to rely on the excerpts I provide you in my posts. If Bailii did not exist you would be at the mercy of editorial decisions and unable to go off and verify what has been written for yourself.

Bailii is, however, in a funding crisis. Their annual operating costs are around £160,000. One of their main donors has pulled out, and others are making funny noises. They need donations to meet the funding shortfall or they may go under.

I take making the law accessible to the public very seriously. It is one of the reasons I set up this blog. Bailii is one of the best ways this is being done, by making the judgments that decide the law of the land available to the general public free of charge. It is an essential service.

They are appealing for funds here. I implore you to donate whatever you can to them.

If you have come to this story via Twitter, please RT it.

Footballers and WAGs

It seems an appropriately topical time to post this.

No, I’m not breaching any injunctions, super, mega, hyper, boring, interim, final or inferior.

I am, when not writing or learning about law, the President of the Inner Temple Drama Society.  For our Easter Show we are producing an updated and expanded version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury.  WS Gilbert was a member of Inner Temple, and the show will be on the week of the centenary of his death.

The show is updated and extended, incorporating music from other G&S Shows.  The story now revolves around a breach of promise of marriage by a footballer to his WAG.  Cue celebrity parodies, super-injunction gags and so on.

We have been very fortunate also to have the role of the Judge played by a retired judge, HHJ Michael Kennedy QC.

Performances are on May 24th at 7:30 and 9pm, with tickets at £8, £5 concessions.  For details contact 

Pupillage Advice, Part 2

The original post is now up at Legal Week.

Having had some initial feedback, I’ve been given some further pointers worth repeating here:

More Links

Current Awareness – run by the librarians of Inner Temple, this is a very good roundup of links to relevant legal news. You don’t have to read every link posted, but it’s useful to keep abreast of what’s going on. Definitely count this as one of the blogs worth reading.

Pupillage Blog – I don’t read it, but apparently other people like and recommend it.

Do Your Homework

Chambers get deluged with CVs and applications. They will look for (legitimate) reasons to bin whatever they can. If you give off the impression that you know nothing about the set you’re applying to, they’re very unlikely to want you. Applying to a specialist revenue law set with an application stating your passion for criminal law is very likely to result in your application being filed in the dustbin.

This ought to go without saying, but unfortunately it does happen. It makes you very easy to bin indeed.

Go onto Chambers website and look at what they do and what recent cases they have appeared in. Comb through the site for every useful detail. Bear these in mind when you apply and give a reason why you want to be a pupil at that specific set. Try and look at editions of Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 (the student edition of the former is particularly useful). Tailor your applications to the set.

Cheque You’re Spelling. Punctuation and Grammar

If you paid close attention to the last post I wrote on this subject you’d notice that the final paragraph was a bit grammatically non-sensical. If you didn’t notice it, that’s because I edited it after I posted it. Unlike here, you don’t get an opportunity to amend once sent. The Bar is a job that expects very high standards of written and oral communication. You are paid, roughly speaking, to write things and say things. If you can’t do either well this may not be the job for you. Some parts of the Bar are extremely paperwork-heavy. The pupillage committee will be looking at how you present yourself on paper, and it will be the first impression you make. Make sure it’s a good one. Spelling mistakes and so forth are relatively easy to correct, but potentially lethal if left in.

Similarly make sure you’ve answered the questions asked and not failed to leave any out. A friend once forgot to put in the addresses of his referees. Needless to say the set didn’t offer him pupillage, and he never made that mistake again. Similarly, although it may be considered pedantry, avoid putting prepositions at the end of sentences unless you have no choice. It’s a habit you need to cut down on.

Spellcheck won’t cover this. It wouldn’t notice the errors in the above heading. Similarly don’t expect to spot these mistakes as soon as you’ve written them: your mind will fill in the gaps and you will see a complete sentence in place of the nonsense you’ve written. In this regard you have two options: either get a friend (preferably a non-lawyer) to check the draft for these errors (I believe this is allowed), or leave the completed application for a few days then go back to it having done something else.

Anticipate the Questions

Certain parts of your CV will bring up obvious questions (e.g. “Why didn’t you get a 1st?”; “Why did you do a GDL rather than a law degree?” etc.). Other questions are very likely to come up in general (“What attracts you to this set?”). Treat it like your UCAS personal statement. If you put something in your application, expect to get grilled on it. Be prepared for the tough and incisive questions and have answers prepared (but NOT scripted). Don’t think you’ll be given an easy ride: approach your CV from the pupillage committee’s perspective and think what questions they’ll ask on it, especially the tough ones. It again may be helpful to have someone who’s been through the process look through your CV and ask you the tough questions.

Similarly, if your law school or university offers a mock interview service, use it.

Know Your Weaknesses

If you know that some part of your CV isn’t as strong as it could be, don’t try and hide from it. Accept it and deal with it. Have an answer ready for why that weakness is there (but remember: no excuses and no scripted answers). If you can find some way of eliminating the weakness, do it. For example, if you got a 2:1 in your degree, aim for a Distinction on the GDL; if you lack advocacy experience, go mooting or join a debating club.

Apply Early

I don’t mean this in the sense that your application should be complete the day the Portal opens. As far as I’m aware, the Portal applications all get sent to chambers at the same time, so use the given time to fine-tune yours (please correct me here if I’m wrong). What I mean is that if you’re in your GDL year or still on your LLB, you should consider applying now.

First, it will mean you don’t have to take a gap year after the BPTC if you succeed.

Second, if you don’t succeed, you’ll know a lot more about the process and be able to make a better series of applications the following year.

Third, with a few exceptions, there is little harm in applying more than once to the same set. This point is worth checking though: some chambers have a One Attempt Only policy, and will only allow another try in exceptional circumstances. Check the pupillage policy of chambers before you do so, and consider whether, if you want to treat this as effectively a trial run, you might be better holding off until next year.

Finally, you only get a limited number of attempts at applying for pupillage after you’ve done the BPTC. Why waste one?

Give Yourself a Spare Week

Submit your applications a week before the deadline. This should give you enough time to deal with any technical problems that come up. In particular, the Portal has been known to crash around the deadlines when everyone floods the servers. Submit a week before and you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.

Pupillage Advice

Pupillage Portal has just opened and hundreds of aspirant barristers will be applying for pupillage all across the country. Many will be disappointed and will receive correspondence containing the (in)famous line “the standard was exceptionally high”. The standard has been “exceptionally high” for many years now though, which makes you wonder when it’s going to stop being the exception.

I was lucky enough to get pupillage last year so have fortunately been saved from going through the whole system again. It still leaves you with paranoia, but of a different kind: “will I get pupillage?” becomes “will I get tenancy?”, and you start worrying that you will turn up on the day specified to discover that they in fact sent the offer pack to you by mistake, or never received your signed contract.

For all those who are applying this year, I wish the best of luck and hope you get pupillage at a place that you will enjoy.

I am not going to dish out buckets of advice. I am not some super-pupilllage star that had every chambers I applied to clamouring for me and giving me a stack of options to choose from. I’m not going to pretend I know everything about the process and can therefore give out some winning advice. These are just a few brief points that I wish I’d known when I started the process, rather than learning through mistakes.

Recommended Reading

Like I just said, I’m not an expert. The people who write these are. I read them and found the advice really useful.

Some of these are written for an audience that know absolutely nothing about the Bar and pupillage. That does not make them a waste of time if you are über-moot champion and have published three-dozen articles on your favourite area of law. They contain a lot of detail that is not immediately obvious, and even if you find yourself skim-reading some parts, there are very likely to be others that teach you something new.

Pupillage and How to Get It - written by Simon Myerson QC. Filled with excellent articles containing a large amount of information and detail about the process and what you can do to help yourself along the way. It is worth reading the entire archive of his posts for advice.

The Pupillage Pages – a new site recommended by the above. I’ve only had a glance at it so can’t vouch for its quality, but I’d trust that recommendation.

The Path to Pupillage – a book I simply cannot recommend enough, and not just because I have an indirect interest in it. This book has a lot of useful information and practical advice for applicants, including little testimonials from pupils and practitioners on what they applied for. This book covers everything but it’s still worth reading the chapters that you think you already know, as there are details in those chapters that you probably don’t.

Bewigged and Bewildered (Old Edition; New Edition (pre-order)) - a very good comprehensive overview of a career at the Bar. It goes a little wider than the above book, which allows it to cover different areas. In particular the part on choosing your desired practice area is especially good as it focuses on the practicalities.

Get Opinions

This is really for the LLB and GDL students. Quite a few chambers will assess you by way of writing an Opinion. This is a specific type of document in which you offer practical legal advice on a legal question. It is not as academic as a problem question. They have a specific style. Make sure you know how these are written and formatted. BPTC students have an advantage here because they have been taught how to do this over a (roughly) 10-week course. Do not let them get an edge on you because you do not know how to write one of these. In particular, make sure you know how they are formatted: you do not want an otherwise-good answer to be ditched in favour of an answer of similar quality simply because yours looked less impressive because it was a big chunk of prose (I don’t know if this happens, but why take the risk?). Buy a book on opinion writing and learn the basic principles to put yourself on more of an equal footing.

Read the Blogs

You will be asked questions about current developments in the English legal system. You will be rewarded for knowledge and understanding of these. From the rumours I have heard, Alternative Business Structures (i.e. Clementi) and the Jackson review of costs are becoming hot topics in interviews. Read both reports and understand the issues. I wouldn’t be surprised if the proposed cuts to legal aid were also a topic of questioning. You need to know about these areas (especially those that relate to your desired practice area/chambers). You are expected to take an interest. Read the legal press, read the legal blogs. Make sure you know, within reason, what’s happening in this world. Similarly, know wider developments in your chosen practice area. If you want to be a commercial barrister, have “commercial awareness”. If you want to do Family Law, know about the government’s proposed changes to legal aid.

I would particularly recommend Garrulous Law, it’s written by a very charming and handsome man who knows everything there is to know about everything that matters. Seriously though I’d start by looking at the blogs on my blogroll, then the blogs on their blogrolls, and so on until you’re sick of the whole exercise and wish you’d never read this.

In a similar vein listen to Law in Action and Charon QC’s podcasts.

Pimp Everything

Try and relate everything in your application form (within reason) back to why you think it would make you a good barrister. It shows you understand what the job is about and have “relevant skills”.

For example, I used to work as a teaching assistant in a saturday school for under-13s. That sounds about as remote from the Bar as you can get. But it’s still relevant; you need tact, communication skills, the ability to explain complex ideas in simple and comprehensible terms, and an ability to handle large amounts of documents. There’s probably something you’ve done in your employment history that provides you with a relevant skill. Tell them. They won’t know otherwise.

Similarly, no mini-pupillage is unremarkable. Think of something that happened that confirmed why you wanted to be a barrister (finding out how much your supervisor earns probably isn’t quite right), or was otherwise significant or memorable. Say why that was.

Hold Your Own

The softest interview I had was swiftly followed up with a “the standard was exceptionally high” letter. The toughest interviews I had were followed by invitations to the next stage of the process. The interviewers go hard on you to see how well you will cope under pressure. They want to know that you’re not going to take a concession unnecessarily just because the judge looks irritated or your opponent has told you your case is rubbish. Just because they are doing so does not mean that you are wrong or a failure. A tough interview can be a sign that they are taking you seriously enough to test you. I walked out of all of the tough interviews thinking I’d failed. One some occasions I was right, but it wasn’t because the interview was tough.

If you think you’re right, stick to your guns and politely explain why you think you are. Don’t back down just because the senior practitioner is being irritable. That being said, if you are sure that you’re wrong, and it’s not just because the interviewer scares you a little, then it may be better to admit you were wrong and reconsider your position.

On a related note, don’t be afraid of silence. Taking time to think or re-read something can come across as a strength, not a weakness.

Don’t Make Excuses

You’re digging yourself further into a hole. Explain, but don’t excuse. If, for example, you didn’t get your predicted grades because you were lazy, don’t start coming up with all manner of self-pitying reasons why this was the case. They often sound rubbish. Take responsibility for yourself, admit that your grades dropped because you were lazy, and explain why Chambers don’t have to fear that you will be that lazy in the future, preferably with some evidence to back it up.

If you have a genuine mitigating circumstance, explain it (usually in the covering letter), but don’t spend too long on it.

Be Honest

In addition to the matters of ethics and personal integrity, if you lie you’ll probably get caught. If you don’t get caught then you may get found out later. There’s a good chance that whatever you want to lie about will not kill your application or career. By contrast if you lie about it there’s a very good chance that it will. It’s not worth it.

Don’t Steal a Wig and Gown

I know they did it in Silk, but that show is, to put it politely, not 100% accurate. Similarly don’t try and steal an out-of-date copy of Archbold from Hammick’s, don’t push a senior member of chambers down the stairs, don’t have the charisma of a damp fish, don’t ask women their age, don’t stick your hands in your pockets and certainly don’t give off the impression that you haven’t a clue what the law is.

Good Luck

If at first you don’t succeed… well let’s hope you do as I don’t want to receive a load of hate-mail for giving out duff advice.

If you have anything to add, or any questions, please descend upon the comments section.

Legal Aid Reforms

On Monday the Ministry of Justice published a green paper outlining proposals for reforming legal aid in England and Wales.

You can get the official hard-copy version from TSO here, and the PDF here. Or you can see an online annotataed version here.

I haven’t read it yet (though I intend to), but the response so far is not positive. To give you a flavour:

The Law Society:

The government’s proposals mean that only the poorest of the poor will continue to be able to obtain civil legal aid and even for them legal aid would cease to be available for some vital matters. But neither we nor the government can know how the Jackson proposals will work in reality and whether the squeezed middle will have access to justice.

Nicholas Green QC, Chairman of the Bar Council:

The new thresholds for legal aid will mean that many who must be described as poor will be denied legal assistance when they come into contact with the courts at crisis points in their lives about decisions going to the heart of their personal lives and those of their families. Legal aid will no longer be available for certain categories of cases involving education, immigration, employment, debt, and housing, all of which can involve very vulnerable people.

Charon QC

It costs money to fund even the most modest solicitor’s office, fund  solicitor’s time or barrister’s time.   Those who rely on legal aid tend not to be consulting the City and Commercial law firms – which, however, contribute in their way to our society by providing experienced lawyers who do many thousands of hours of free legal work for those who need help. (I would not wish twitter trolls and  head bangers to think I had missed the point that lawyers are ‘fat cats’)  Those who rely on legal aid consult lawyers who deal with very real, sometimes very serious and oppressive, legal issues which can seriously affect mental and physical health and even destroy lives.

Guardian Law:

It’s important not to be unrealistic about legal aid – it was always going to have to take its share of the hit across the Ministry of Justice, and wider government spending cuts. But the government actually has the nerve to say that these changes are better for society.

Briefing journalists on the cuts, legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly made repeated reference to the “culture of litigation” and the fact that “people are too often willing to hand over personal problems to the state”. In so doing he suggested that these changes are also a measure of social conditioning, to break that culture, even if the means is excluding the poorest people in society from access to justice.

It’s that last quote that worries me. There is no evidence to support the claim that there is a “culture of litigation”. For most cases, the number of claims has actually gone down. This looks like it may be using legal aid cuts to mask policy.

In particular, I am concerned at the idea of replacing funding for NHS litigation with private insurance. Clinical negligence can affect anyone, and it is absolutely vital that the courts can step in and force the NHS to be held to account for it. The idea that this can be replaced with private insurance seems almost laughable. First, there is little to suggest that most people would take it up until it was too late. Second, it creates a two-tier healthcare system by the back door, where only those that can afford insurance have any practical protection against shoddy treatment. Given that this is a costly area of litigation for the government, it looks like a useful way of masking a policy decision.

I will come back to this more when I have read the paper fully.

Hello Legislation

The old statute law websites at OPSI and the Statute Law Database are being mothballed and replaced with a single site: legislation.gov.uk.  The new site promises to  “[bring] together the legislative content currently held on the OPSI website and revised legislation from the Statute Law Database to provide a single legislation service that replaces the current services”. It claims to hold:

  • All legislation from 1988 – present day is available on this site (see ‘What legislation is missing’ for details of any known legislation we do not carry)
  • There are no secondary legislation items (e.g Statutory Instruments) available before 1988 as they are not available in a web-publishable format.
  • Most pre-1988 primary legislation is available on this site. In some cases we only have the original published (as enacted) version and no revised version. This occurs if the legislation was wholly repealed before 1991 and therefore was not included in the revised data set when it was extracted from Statutes in Force. In other cases we may only have a revised version if the original (as enacted) version is not available in a web-publishable format.

This can only be welcome.  There have been major problems with a system that was creaky, dispersed and unreliable.  This was clear in R v Chambers [2008] EWCA Crim 2467, where a confiscation order was made improperly using legislation that was five years out of date because the changes were not reflected online.  Toulson LJ noted (between paragraphs 68 to 72):

There is no comprehensive statute law database with hyperlinks which would enable an intelligent person, by using a search engine, to find out all the legislation on a particular topic. This means that the courts are in many cases unable to discover what the law is, or was at the date with which the court is concerned, and are entirely dependent on the parties for being able to inform them what were the relevant statutory provisions which the court has to apply. This lamentable state of affairs has been raised by responsible bodies on many occasions, including the House of Lords Committee on the Merits of Secondary Legislation.

It is a serious state of affairs when the relevant legislation is not accessible, the Government’s own public information website (OPSI) is incomplete and the prosecution in an excise case unintentionally misleads the court as to the relevant Regulations in force. Although the problem has in this case arisen in an excise context, it is part of a wider problem of substantial constitutional importance.

Hopefully putting everything in one place under the control of the National Archives should help get on top of things.  Though they state that legislation is only up-to-date to the end of 2002, we will at least now have an idea whether legislation is out-of-date.  The site is certainly easier both on the eye and to use.  One hopes it is just the start of a wider overhaul.

Lawful Eviction

When it was just Brian Haw, I was sympathetic. The attempts to remove him from Parliament Square appeared to be more about political expediency than principle. He was occupying a relatively small part of the square, and he was expressing a legitimate, specific view.

This changed, however, when “Democracy Village” sprung up. The whole of the square was occupied to express, on a permanent basis and for an indefinite period, a series of gripes about anything and everything. It morphed from a protest into a full-on occupation.

That’s why I’m rather glad the Court of Appeal found as it did today in holding that Boris Johnson has the right to evict them.

I don’t really care for the “world heritage site” or “eyesore” arguments. My issue is that public spaces are for everyone, not a specific section of society. We accept temporary use by people we don’t agree with as the natural consequence of living in a free society. This goes well beyond that: by taking over that space until conditions are met they are effectively holding it to ransom. They have gone beyond protest and into quasi-ownership, effectively excluding others from enjoying the land. If they want to do that, they should have the decency to buy it.