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An uncertain time for pupil barristers during quarantine

Communication is key in reducing the anxiety of pupils, says Genevieve Reed, a criminal barrister and secretary to the pupillage committee at Red Lion Chambers

One key concern for all chambers during these uncertain times should be the welfare of their pupils. The key issues for pupils during this lockdown, much like the rest of the profession, will be their health, finances, and their practice, but the latter two will be felt acutely by pupils.

Criminal pupils, under normal circumstances, can expect to be in court most days. The rest of their time will be focused on research and other work for members of chambers. With the courts on lockdown, apart from urgent cases, there are limited opportunities for pupils to attend court either in person or by phone or video conferencing. As work grinds to a halt the opportunities to do work for other members of chambers is also limited. These issues all have a direct impact on the cash flow and development of pupils.

As a chambers, we have strived to meet these concerns from an early stage in this crisis. Red Lion has set up a Covid-19 response team which meet (virtually) to discuss all the relevant issues and guidance and provide a helpful daily newsletter keeping members, and pupils, up to date with all developments. The heads of chambers have also organised, by call band, video conferencing groups to address concerns that members and pupils may have.

The pupillage committee has put together a new, comprehensive policy to try and address the issues pupils will face during this crisis. Pupils, for example, will now be working from home, rather than chambers, so they have all been provided with stationery and offered a printer and a shredder to ensure they can work from home effectively without incurring costs. Our bi-monthly advocacy training will continue as usual over Zoom with papers provided by email. Members are being encouraged to continue providing work and research tasks to the pupils. The pupillage committee will provide assessed written exercises. Pupils are also being encouraged to access online resources to continue their professional development.

From a financial perspective, our pupils continue to receive their monthly grant throughout their second six and this provides a safety net for pupils in the absence of court work. We keep the financial arrangements under review and have lots of junior members on our pupillage committee to ensure that there is always someone for pupils to talk to about these issues. It is important for all chambers to assess how their pupils get paid during their second six to ensure that they are properly funded during this period and to ensure that there is a proper forum in place for pupils to raise their concerns.

The future is uncertain and circumstances change on a day-to-day basis so it is impossible to prepare for every eventuality. Communication, therefore, is key to reduce the anxiety of pupils. We must provide as much support as we can to guide them through these uncertain times. WhatsApp groups have been put in place to ensure easy contact with members, the pupillage committee is in regular contact by video calls, and supervisors are asked to be in daily contact during the working week.

My advice to any current pupils is to have as much contact with chambers as possible throughout this period. Chambers should guide you with regards to your training but look out for webinars and other e-learning resources that you can access during this time. The Criminal Bar Association, for example, has now made all their CPD videos free to watch during this time and they can be accessed via their website. Other resources, like the Advocates Gateway, has many useful resources. Above all else, stay safe! If you have any issues or concerns, do not be afraid to raise them, that is what we are here for.

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