This specialist public law set is known for planning, environmental and licensing work.
If busting a gut for banks and billionaires isn't your cup of tea, and you don't fancy being up to your elbows in big mucky crimes or divorces, then read on. For the barristers of Francis Taylor Building, public law is the name of the game. As one pupil declared: “I was only interested in public law. It was either that or not practise at all!” Another explained their interest this way: "Working in public law means having a fight either for or against the government: the principles at play are things like fairness and matter for society more broadly. To me that's infinitely more exciting than arguing about some money and a contract.”
“You get to grips with everything from environmental law, which is all very whizzy, to compulsory purchases which are grounded in English common law.”
Within the realm of public law, this set specialises in planning, environmental and licensing law, and over the years it's consolidated a top-flight reputation in these areas, as a cursory glance at the Chambers UK rankings confirms. Senior clerk Paul Coveney tells us: “About 70% of our work is planning-related. That encompasses everything from enforcement disputes over the building of an extension without planning permission to arguments about the siting of a nuclear power station.” Most of the work is UK-based, although some instructions emanate from Hong Kong and the Caribbean. Clients include local authorities, developers, house builders, rail operators, energy companies and water companies. Recently there's been an increased emphasis on infrastructure work, particularly in relation to transport and energy. Of late, barristers have acted for claimants seeking to appeal a planning inspector's decision to grant permission for a wind farm near a Grade I listed building in Northamptonshire, and acted for Newham Borough Council during a public inquiry into the refusal of planning permission to build the largest mosque in Europe on a site in West Ham. Another silk worked on a judicial review of the proposed redevelopment of the Shell Centre, a 60s tower block on London's South Bank.
The set's environmental law work includes things like “prosecutions by the Environment Agency of commercial operators who have dumped sewage in a river – the regulatory crime end of environment law – and contractual disputes over the purchase of contaminated land.” This throws up odd legal conundrums like "the categorisation of different sorts of waste." Recently, FTB's barristers have been working on an increasing number of appeals over business rates – “all businesses pay a certain amount of tax for the building they operate in," a source explained. "For big industrial sites or offices in the City of London we're talking massive sums of money, so that's well worth picking a fight over!” Barristers also frequently work on compensation claims flowing from compulsory purchase orders. For example, several members have been defending the Greater London Authority and the Olympic Delivery Authority against claims related to the compulsory purchase of land for the 2012 Olympics.
"... It's all about nightclubs, gambling venues and strip joints.”
Then there's licensing work, the cherry on top of FTB's specialist practice sundae. The set acts for operators, local authorities and objectors on issues involving liquor, gaming and betting licensing. According to a pupil “licensing work is factually inherently quite interesting – it's all about nightclubs, gambling venues and strip joints.” For example, one member recently represented Wildcats lap-dancing club – Leeds's largest 'sexual entertainment venue' (that's the official term) – in judicial review proceedings against the City Council's decision not to renew its licence.
Thinking and arguing
FTB recruits two pupils a year. It operates outside the Pupillage Gateway and has its own application form. The set receives around 100 applications a year. Of those, 35 are called in for a first-round interview with three members. Current pupils recalled that this first hurdle involves “a discussion of your CV, interests and why you want to join the set.” The second-round interview (which 16 candidates attended in 2016) involves a legal problem related to planning permission and a judicial review. “It's probably still the hardest thing I've ever done,” chuckled one interviewee. “You're faced with two sides of A4 involving about 30 different legal issues.” After absorbing this for 20 minutes, “you go into a room and the panel says, 'argue.'" One source recalled: "They picked me up on everything I did wrong as I went along. There was a point about the Equality Act and protected characteristics that I'd never even heard of!” Pupils told us that planning law knowledge isn't essential at this stage, but the problem does require a basic understanding of public law. That said, "the interviewers don't care which of the candidates knows the most. They want to see how good you are at thinking and arguing a point.” As well as having stellar academic records, the pupils we met had other impressive experiences adorning their CVs too: one had gained work experience at English Heritage, while the other had been a teaching fellow at UCL, a paralegal at a City law firm and a duty adviser in the County Court.
Pupils spend three four-month periods with three different supervisors. The first few months involve “following your supervisor around, seeing what they're doing in court, writing notes, drafting skeleton arguments and going to conferences.” An insider reported appreciatively: “Because FTB works in such specialist areas, my supervisor gave me time to understand the law we were dealing with in my first few weeks. So I'd read a section of a textbook and do a research note, as much for my benefit as his.” As pupillage progresses, newcomers do written work for as many members as possible, who'll scrutinise the results and proffer their opinion on pupils when the tenancy decision rolls around. Aside from the scrutiny, “big important silks make it their business to look after pupils and make sure not only that you're getting interesting work but that you're personally happy too.”
By the second six, pupils are on their feet, instructed as sole counsel on small briefs. They also spend time acting as unofficial 'junior' alongside silks. One told us excitedly: “For one matter, I drafted everything, although obviously the silk checked and updated it. I felt like a 'real' junior. I was instructed, paid, and the law report had my name on it.” Supervisors "aren't consciously chosen for having different areas of practice” but over the year pupils will likely experience planning, environmental and licensing matters. The hours are “inherently variable.” One source noted that “if you need to draft a reply overnight, then you draft a reply overnight. But generally people are good at telling you to go home at 6.30pm.”
"'They've all swum the Bosphorus.' And one was a member of chambers!”
During the year, pupils also complete four advocacy exercises, including two mock public inquiries. All members are invited to watch but “not too many turn up, although the senior tenants like to see what you're made of!” The tenancy decision is based on supervisors' reports, the advocacy assessments and comments from other members. The 2016 tenancy decision had yet to be made when we went to press but in 2015 both pupils were made members.
Pupils characterised FTB as “modern-traditional." One said: "We're a special blend! We look and feel like a barristers' chambers, but the areas of law we deal in are inherently forward-looking so people here are themselves forward-looking too.” Best not to bust out your Nike Airs though – “people dress pretty formally all the time,” one source reported. Another added that there isn't “a stiff, formal afternoon tea... there's just tea in a room at 4pm if you want it, but not many people go.” Folk are “super-friendly” although “this isn't a hugely sociable set – not very boozy.” That said, there are occasional drinks, a fancy Christmas dinner and a special Yuletide quiz for pupils run by a silk – “some questions are really random, some arcane, some modern.” An example? “Question: 'What do these three people have in common?' Answer: 'They've all swum the Bosphorus.' And one was a member of chambers!”
Francis Taylor Building is named after its Inner Temple digs which in turn are named after Francis Taylor, Baron Maenan, a barrister from 100 year back. He retired as a judge in 1948 at the age of 93, making him the oldest ever serving judge in the UK.
Francis Taylor Building
Francis Taylor Building,
- No of silks 24
- No of juniors 34
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Saira Kabir Sheikh QC, (020) 7353 8415
- Method of application Chambers is not a member of Pupillage Gateway but has its own application form and process. The deadline for applications is 31st January each year. Application forms can be found at: www.ftbchambers.co.uk/ recruitment
- Pupillages (p.a) Two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies Two
- Annexes None
Types of work undertaken
Pupils can expect to read their pupil supervisor’s instructions and papers, research relevant law, attempt their own draft pleadings and opinions for discussion, and accompany their pupil supervisor to hearings and conferences.
After the completion of the first four-months of pupillage, pupils are also expected to undertake written work for, and attend hearings with, other members of chambers as well as their pupil supervisor.
In their second six months, pupils are also able and expected to accept instructions to undertake work of their own. In recent years our second-six pupils have been briefed to appear in a variety of courts and tribunals, including the High Court, county court, public inquiries and various administrative tribunals.
Members of chambers also provide a series of introductory seminars for our pupils during their first six months to familiarise the new pupils with the main areas of chambers practice and the issues of law and practice that most commonly arise.
We also organise a number of formal advocacy exercises for our pupils during the course of the year, including training in the cross-examination of expert witnesses (usually in partnership with expert witnesses from various external planning consultancies), and in the particular requirements of advocacy in the Administrative Court.