31 May 2021

UK Supreme Court launches paid internships

UK's highest court launches internship programme for aspiring lawyers intended to encourage greater diversity at the Bar

The Supreme Court in London Shutterstock

The UK Supreme Court has announced a paid internship programme for future barristers, with candidates drawn from communities underrepresented at the Bar.

A joint collaboration with Bridging the Bar, a charity that works to improve equal opportunities and diversity at the Bar, the internships will allow eight candidates selected by the charity to undertake a five-day placement at the Supreme Court.

At present, all of the court’s existing judges are white and only two are women, with only 4% of the senior judiciary (drawn from the High Court and above) from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. As of 2020, 14.4% of barristers were drawn from BAME groups, and only 8% of silks. The 2011 census recorded 14% of the population were BAME.

The eight candidates will be students who have either completed their vocational studies, the Bar Professional Training Course (BTPC), or have been offered a place to study the BTPC.  The application process runs from June to July, with internships taking place from October to December 2021.

Speaking on YouTube, the Court’s chief executive Vicky Fox said the launch of the scheme as part of the court’s judicial diversity and inclusion strategy would allow participants to “have the chance to gain hands-on experience working at the court. For five days, interns will observe cases, discuss legal arguments with justices and work closely with our judicial assistants.”

Bridging the Bar, she said, would run two days of preparatory coaching before the placement to ensure candidates are ready for their time at the court.

According to an interview in The Times with Bridging the Bar’s founder, government barrister Mass Ndow-Njie, the charity provides mentoring and work experience for groups underrepresented at the bar through disability, ethnicity, or disadvantaged backgrounds. Over 70 chambers and 400 barristers have supported the charity, which has arranged more than 130 mini-pupillages and 75 mentorships.

Ndow-Njie told the Times: “We sought to aim high, by going for the biggest and the best, and thought if we could get the Supreme Court, every other court would be willing to help too,” while  acknowledging the support of the late Lord Kerr for the initiative.

The internship programme builds on the existing judicial assistant scheme, first launched in 2000 and later expanded in 2009 with the Court’s move to its current premises on Parliament Square. One of the eight assistants manages the other seven, who work for a judicial year of three terms. Four are assigned to the president, deputy president and two other justices, with the remainder’s work split between the other eight justices.

The scheme is distinct from the US Supreme Court, which along with other courts regularly hires law clerks. Each US justice is entitled to hire up to four clerks for a single judicial year; applicants are law graduates with recent practice experience that have often first served as clerks in the federal or state courts.

Similar schemes also exist in England & Wales’s Court of Appeal and the High Court, with the latter scheme also opening for applicants this week. All three schemes are open to junior solicitors and barristers.

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