Bar Practice Course 74
‘Twas the night before Bar Practice, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The pupils were nestled all snug in their beds,
Visions of footnotes (for assignment one) dancing in their heads.
And then came an email — the Bar Practice Course had been deferred in light of the increasing gravity of COVID. It was March 2020, the Course scheduled to commence on the 16th. Many pupils had left employment, others had taken leave for the necessary time. All had committed to the study.
Then President of our Association, Rebecca Treston QC candidly shared the context leading to that deferral. The decision, a no doubt difficult and courageous one, had been made with the best medical advice, in consultation with the Council and only after having canvassed all possible alternatives.
Hindsight has the benefit of perfect, retrospective vision, but, in any estimation, the decision to defer was prescient. In March 2020 the true nature and complexion of the COVID virus was largely unknown. Appropriate precautions to avoid infection were being developed, but had not been perfected. Since that time the highly communicable nature of the virus and its grave potential impact on health of those who contract it, and the devastating impact upon lives, countries and economies have become matters of fact.
The Association committed itself to finding ways for the Course to proceed, for which the pupils of BPC 74 are deeply grateful. The Course convened in August 2020 for the scheduled six week period. The Chief Justice most generously made available the Supreme Court complex for the purpose and much of the Course was delivered in the Banco and Chief Justice’s Courts. Appropriate social distancing and other precautionary measures were taken.
The cohort of twenty-eight came from a diverse background of practice and knowledge. Some were expert in Criminal Law, others had extensive experience in Family Law whilst a number had Commercial backgrounds. Whether through circumstance (the intensity and work of the Course producing a form of Stockholm Syndrome) or the undoubted intent of each to support their colleagues the group developed a close and cohesive bond. The Criminal lawyers guided those with Civil backgrounds for Mock Hearing 1, the Family Lawyers returned the favour for Hearing 4 and the Commercial lawyers did their best to help for the Interlocutory Application and the final Mock Hearing.
The Course, as those who have participated in it before will recall (perhaps with the onset of sympathetic anxiety), is immersive, challenging and demanding. It is for perhaps these reasons that Ainsley Webber and Dan Boddice, in their Final Address on behalf of the group, proposed a ‘BPC 74 Drinking Game’, the rules of which include:
- One sip for each time the word ‘collegiate’ was mentioned;
- One shot every time the word ‘preparation’ was uttered (a dangerous rule given the frequency the phrase ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’ was deployed by presenters);
- One half scull before each time reference was made to the President’s opening submissions in Wik (as the submissions have passed into legendary legal folklore this rule alone would render all players of the game dangerously inebriated), and
- A full scull on each occasion ‘money’ (and the concerns that come about from an absence of it) was spoken of.
For all the work and tension, however, the six weeks were extraordinarily rewarding and educative. The Course is remarkable in the way that it is carefully and deliberately planned; presentations on topics and skills to be acquired are followed by practical, participative exercises. It is an exemplar of ‘experiential learning’.
The presenters, Judicial Officers, Her Majesty’s Counsel and other, leading Barristers, were extraordinarily generous with their time, and patient and kind in their feedback. It was a great privilege to have been addressed by the leaders in our profession.
The Association staff, particularly Gail Cowen and her team, bore the burden of administering the Course in difficult circumstances with admirable ease. They were available to assist, support and help pupils at all times, often late into the evening and on weekends. I know that each pupil extends their thanks to Gail and her team.
The Course in the final event was not without highlights. Each pupil passed. One group for the final Mock Hearing now holds the record for the longest ever recorded Mock (at 4 Â½ hours and without Judicial intervention it would still be going). One pupil will never chew gum (again) whilst in Court and all pupils have formed enduring friendships.
Whilst the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career at the Bar can only be learned through experience, the Course provided the essential foundations for the participants to begin that journey.
If the ‘Class of BPC 74 2020’ were to adopt a motto, it would be borrowed from Shakespeare:
‘Do as adversaries do in law, strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends’