Bar pupillage at the Crown Prosecution Service – is this the new normal?

Bar pupillage at the Crown Prosecution Service – is this the new normal?

The past year has transformed the experience of Bar pupillage, and not only for those in Chambers. As LexisNexis launches free access to LexisPSL for Bar pupils in Chambers, Joshua Sanderson-Kirk, pupil barrister at the CPS, shares his experience of Bar pupillage in the age of COVID.

Firstly, how much did your application process change as a result of COVID-19?

Actually, the application process was the same as normal!  It was a mixture of ‘regular’ pupillage and civil service applications, so we had to do online tests, videos etc. There was also an online assessment and face-to-face interviews, so it’s a longer process than you might have for Chambers.

What makes pupillage at the CPS different from being a pupil in Chambers?

The first 6 months of the CPS pupillage is spent in observation, which isn’t so different. I mostly shadowed barristers and solicitors, both in Magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court.

What makes the CPS pupillage unique is that we have secondments – for example, to the Fraud Hub and the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit. This was hugely important experience, and it gave me the chance to work on the charging as well as the advocacy side of CPS work.

There is also difference in our training – on top of the compulsory advocacy training provided by the Inns of Court and Circuits, we also have in-house training that covers our specific duties at the CPS.

For my second six I was deployed to a Magistrates’ court team. This meant more travel and structure, which I enjoyed. I was generally in Crown Court once a week, and Magistrates’ Court the other 4 days. There was a huge range of work, since we pick up whatever comes into court.

We also have access to a whole range of support, LexisNexis for example, as well as operational delivery staff and the Senior Prosecutor on Call (SPOC) if we’re dealing with something we haven’t seen before.

What parts of your pupillage have been different due to COVID-19?

Luckily for me I started in November 2020, rather than at the beginning of the outbreak, so I was sent straight into court. As a pupil, my travel was considered essential and most of my work still took place in person. I also got to see some of the Nightingale courts, which was a surreal experience with the rooms being used for multiple functions – courtroom by day and venue by night!

The most difficult point was when I was self-isolating, and had to use the Cloud Video Platform (CVP), which you need to join a court hearing remotely. In my opinion this doesn’t work as well as hearings in person, particularly with links going down, and translators often needed. It all takes a lot longer.

How quickly did the CPS adapt its pupillage when everything moved online?

The CPS has been very quick to adopt technology – it was already paperless before COVID-19. Of course, tech adoption accelerated when everything had to move online, including pupillage training, supervisor catch ups etc. Only court appearances continued in person. In fact, this has stayed the same now – I’ve never even set foot in our office building.

We were very well supported in working from home, possibly more than pupils in Chambers. We got all the equipment we needed straightaway, and I don’t see that changing in future.

What changes from the past year do you think will become permanent?

Most people are really happy with how we are working currently. It means you get the best of both worlds – we get to see people in court as well as being able to work from home. In my opinion, you can’t replicate the value of a quick chat or sense check with a colleague, particularly when you’re a pupil and learning fast.

I know that family courts are sticking to online hearings mostly, and replicating pre-court chats online. It’s really important to know why you’re using technology and making sure you’ve got the right tools for the job, rather than blind use of tech for its own sake. For example, not replacing an ad hoc chat that you used to have with a half hour Teams meeting for the sake of it.

How do you think the diversity of CPS pupils compares to those going into Chambers?

The CPS has an open and transparent recruitment process. I think this helps to attract a more diverse range of barristers, which overcomes the perception that some areas of the Bar are still elitist. There are many pupils who aren’t from ‘traditional’ backgrounds and are diverse by lots of measures, including sexuality, ethnicity, age, and educational background.

Overall, the Bar is definitely changing. It’s really positive to see senior barristers talking about widening participation and making sure that the Bar (both employed and self-employed) is better able to support people from a broad range of backgrounds.

No matter who you are, if you want to do court advocacy, the Bar is for you. It’s going to take people from a diverse range of backgrounds to change it, so please get involved.

LexisNexis is delighted to be launching free access to LexisPSL for Bar pupils in Chambers. For details on how to apply, click here.

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About the author:

Joshua (He/Him) is a Pupil Barrister with the Crown Prosecution Service in their Mersey-Cheshire area. He was called to the Bar by Inner Temple in 2018 having completed the BPTC and GDL at The University of Law, and his undergraduate at Stephenson College, Durham.

Prior to joining the CPS he was the first elected President of the Student Association at The University of Law. His focus was on widening participation in the legal profession and in supporting student mental health. He also volunteered on an LGBT street safety project in Manchester’s Gay Village whilst working.

Outside of work he plays rugby for the Manchester Village Spartans RUFC.