Compulsory pupillage agreements will help combat harassment, says BSB

updated on 20 May 2019

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is planning to make written pupillage agreements compulsory to combat “inappropriate behaviour”, citing its 2016 ‘Women at the Bar’ report in which 40% of women barristers reported experiencing harassment at work.

As Legal Futures reports, the regulator wants to introduce compulsory written terms to make all pupillages consistent across the profession and ensure that supervisors and pupils “understand their obligations”.

The BSB continued: “We also have evidence to suggest that some pupils are at risk of inappropriate behaviours and written terms, with clear policies setting out the course of action to be taken should inappropriate behaviour occur, is a way to address this.”

Over half the women who reported harassment in the 2016 report said that they had been harassed during pupillage, either internally within chambers or by external lawyers and judges.

In other news, the BSB is also consulting on whether to bring all pupillage providers’ recruitment timetables into line with the Pupillage Gateway. Currently, all pupillage vacancies have to be advertised on the Gateway, but they do not have to follow the November – May timetable.

The regulator said that the practice unfairly disadvantages candidates from less-privileged backgrounds: “Earlier or later advertisement on the Gateway may disadvantage certain applicants who are less likely to be aware that these opportunities exist. This potentially excludes candidates from the application phase, which could be a barrier to accessing pupillage opportunities and may disproportionately affect those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“If the deadline to respond falls before other pupillage providers have sent out offers, the applicant may feel pressure to accept the first offer in haste, leaving them unable to make an informed decision based on all the offers they may receive.”