The Bar Council has warned that the pandemic could cause a 'persisting' shortage of barristers, after the number of pupillages registered last year fell by 35%.

Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said the number of cancelled recruitment processes and deferred pupillages from 2020 are likely to leave a ‘persisting pandemic gap at a time when legal needs are likely to increase’.


Number of pupillages registered with the BSB fell by 35%

Source: Alamy

‘This will disproportionally affect publicly funded work and highlights the need for a thorough review of the legal aid system to allow to ensure recruitment into this vital part of the justice system,’ Sweeting said.

A new report by the Bar Standards Board says 386 pupillages were registered in 2020. This compares with 592 pupillages registered in 2019: a fall of 35%. The regulator warned that pandemic also looks set to affect pupillage numbers in 2021, although recruitment levels are ‘picking up’.

Eight commercial sets have agreed to fund criminal pupillages that would otherwise not have been offered this recruitment round, and Sweeting said the profession has made ‘huge efforts’ to ensure pupillages are honoured. ‘However, such acts of generosity are unlikely to be sufficient to make up the shortfall,’ he warned.