5 Essex Chambers - True Picture

5 Essex Chambers is continually at the forefront of major police and public law cases.

5 Essex Chambers pupillage review 2024

The Chambers

5 Essex Chambers isn’t your typical civil set. With overwhelming expertise in police law, inquests, and public inquiries, it’s often known as “a police law set.” Barristers here deal with an array of civil claims involving the police, but senior clerk Mark Waller breaks down the work for us in a bit more detail. “It’s 56% police, 24% government, and the rest is between employment and information law.” Sticking with the stats, “75% of our clients are from the public sector, and 25% are either from the health sector or private clients.” That 75% portion includes “every police force in the country and government departments from the Ministry of Justice to National Security,” says Waller. As you might expect of a largely respondent set, human rights issues and professional discipline cases feature heavily here.

Such expertise is reflected in its Chambers UK Bar rankings, which include top-tier accolades in police law and inquest & public inquiries, and recognition for its professional discipline practice. The set has had a role in many significant and high-profile cases and inquests over the years, including Hillsborough, the Plymouth shootings, and the London Bridge attack. Recently, Jason Beer KC represented Northamptonshire Police in a judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision that Anne Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity from prosecution for the death of Harry Dunn.

Looking ahead, Waller informs us that, “we’ve spent time looking at areas that already had our DNA and are now looking to develop healthcare and information over the next couple of years.” In one standout information case, Francesca Whitelaw KC alongside Jason Beer KC represented South Wales police when the force was sued for using facial recognition software.

With cases like these in mind, Waller adds “our work has gone from strength to strength, so now we sometimes look to recruit third-six pupils on top of our existing pupils, and we’re in the middle of a drive to bring in at least another four barristers to cover the volume of work.” So, it’s time for a new phase for 5 Essex Chambers, and a move to Gray’s Inn is on the cards in late 2023, into an upgraded working environment worthy of “who we are and where we are at,” says Waller.

“My experience has been most like my counterparts at the criminal Bar.”

One characteristic of a pupillage here that really stood out to our junior sources was the opportunity for advocacy. “It was certainly one of the things that I thought was very attractive about this set as opposed to other sets that work in a similar civil field,” one shared. “My experience has been most like my counterparts at the criminal Bar, but without the financial troubles that they experience.”

The Pupillage Experience

At 5 Essex Chambers, pupils do three seats lasting four months, each with a different supervisor. The seats are “designed to be varied with different levels of seniority to reflect the fact that different members at different levels do different areas of work,” says Lissy Verrall-Withers, member of the pupillage committee. As this junior nicely explained, “the general idea is that the hand on the shoulder is lighter as you move through those three supervisors.”

So, the first six is focused on shadowing and written work for the supervisor – “jumping into the more academic side of the law, and really getting to grips with what police and public law is.” As one pupil described, “my first six involved claims of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, claims for damages arising out of interactions with police which were unlawful, and human rights claims as well.” This involved drafting advises and defences. “I drafted advice on a false imprisonment claim on whether or not we had a good chance of defending the claim,” they illustrated. “And I drafted defences in relation to human rights and malicious prosecution claims, and claims for compensation arising out of someone’s arrest.” As pupils approach their second six they can expect to work for other members of chambers too: “I was writing research notes on inquests and inquiries from here to the Caribbean!”

“If you’re interested in that sort of slight rough-and-tumble courtroom advocacy, the wild west of the magistrates’ court is a good place to be!

Moving into the second six, “I went from working exclusively as an understudy doing high-level stuff to a slightly more humble practice, which was mine. The clerks are very good at making sure you aren’t immediately swamped, but fairly quickly you’re spending 90% of your time just doing your own cases!” So yes – pupils do get up on their feet. “If you’re interested in that sort of slight rough-and-tumble courtroom advocacy, the wild west of the magistrates’ court is a good place to be! Essentially, you are almost working as a criminal prosecutor but for a civil client.” On the days they weren’t in court, interviewees had “a little advisory practice on the side, maybe advising a police force about a false imprisonment claim.”

Expect to be in court three to four times a week, with instructions from police forces across the country. Civil injunctions in the magistrates’ court formed the bread and butter of pupils’ practice. “There’s a huge number of civil injunctions available to the police to assist them in their policing work,” an interviewee explained. Civil injunction applications for pupils included “things like stalking protection orders, sexual risk and harm orders, forfeiture of detained cash or cash in a frozen account, and a bit of animals and dangerous dogs.” All of which could sound quite daunting, but there are group chats on the go where pupils can ping with a quick question. “The number of times I’ve been in court and something has happened, such as my witness hasn’t turned up, which feels quite catastrophic…” one lamented, before reassuring us: “I can immediately go on WhatsApp and ask what to do, and someone replies so quickly – everybody here is really keen to tell you as much as they know.”

When it comes to feedback and supervision, “people were very generous to take out time and chat you through what they thought was good and not good.” A junior tenant summed up the set’s expectations of incoming newbies: “No one is going to waltz in, write their first advice and it be a blinder that’s ready to go off to a client, particularly when you’re attempting to ghost write it for someone who is 20 years’ call!” Pupillage is a learning curve after all.

Pupils are encouraged to work 9am to 6pm during their first six, and people will “ask questions if you’re here after 6pm, and say you need to go home.” During the second six, hours can understandably increase, but insiders were confident that their seniors “don’t want you to burn out, and you can ask clerks to do a couple less cases that week to catch up. People are receptive to you saying, ‘I’m finding this a lot, I need to step back.’”

As for opportunities to socialise, there are plenty of impromptu trips to the pub (“people are quite keen for a beer on a Friday”) and it’s rumoured that “you never buy drinks as a pupil.” How generous! “Very thankfully, we don’t have any traditions,” like afternoon tea. “What makes us so great is that no one here behaves how a barrister should behave, and that is really refreshing.” Except for a good old-fashioned Christmas party, of course. Moreover, “people are keen to celebrate achievements,” such as when members were appointed as KCs in the latest promotion round.

Or perhaps when pupils gain tenancy, which they both did in 2023! Throughout pupillage, work is assessed and pupils receive written feedback forms. These forms are sent to the pupillage committee alongside the application for tenancy. As Verrall-Withers explains, “the tenancy form asks for examples of written and oral advocacy, there is an ethical problem, and pupils submit examples of their work. This is combined with the pupillage feedback forms and a chambers-wide survey to feed into the recommendation for tenancy.” The final decision comes down to a vote held by the whole of chambers.

The Application Process

For someone looking to apply here,” says Waller, “You should like the work you see being done at 5 Essex Chambers, and more importantly, look at what the juniors are doing, as that is the work you are going to be doing. It may take you ten or fifteen years to get to the Supreme Court.” An interest in defendant public law is absolutely key, Verrall-Withers underlines: “The most successful applicants will shine through when they really know what we do.” Hint, hint, for eager applicants, 5 Essex Chambers publishes a detailed annual Pupillage Selection Report which gives insight into previous applicants, and their strengths and weaknesses.

The first step in the recruitment process occurs via Pupillage Gateway, where between 150 and 350 applicants are vying for the two pupillage positions. After the paper application round, 30 to 40 candidates go on to the first interview, the selection of which is “primarily based on academic record, legal and non-legal experience, and the quality of writing and presentation of the application,” Verrall-Withers details. At this stage, interviewees should expect CV-based questions and discussions behind their motivations, alongside a question to prepare upon arrival, and then two to three more questions of a legal and ethical nature. “Most of the questions we ask are really getting at how you’re approaching it, what sort of things you’re considering, and clarity and conciseness of the answer you give,” explains Verrall-Withers.


“Questions you can be ready for if you prepare.”

From there, 10 to 15 candidates are invited the final round. Here, candidates should expect an advocacy exercise and further questions like the initial interviews, which are more formalised and specific to the chambers. According to our sources, the interviews were “nothing out of the ordinary – questions you can be ready for if you prepare.” From there, only two successful candidates are granted pupillage.

Four at 5 Essex Chambers: Out of the five KCs at the set, four are women.

5 Essex Chambers

Chambers profile

5 Essex Chambers is recognised as one of the top public law sets in the country. It is a leading set for inquests, inquiries, human rights, police law, information and data protection law, and employment and regulatory work. Chambers’ work is exciting and often high profile with those at all levels of Chambers involved in many of the UK’s most significant public law cases, public inquiries and inquests. Pupils and junior tenants in the last few years have worked on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry; the Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan; the Post Office Inquiry; R (Cabinet Office) v Chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry; the Rwanda asylum judicial review; Jones v AG Trinidad and Tobago and Macleish v AG of St Vincent (two challenges in Privy Council jurisdictions to laws criminalising homosexuality); and inquests arising from the terror attacks at London Bridge, Westminster and Reading. Pupils and junior tenants appear alone or are led in a wide range of courts and tribunals, from magistrates’ courts to the Supreme Court. Chambers’ work also encompasses jury advocacy, both in civil trials for false imprisonment or malicious prosecution and in certain inquests.

5 Essex Chambers won Best Chambers for Quality of Work at the Legal Cheek Awards 2023. It received a commendation for Diversity & Inclusion in the Chambers UK Bar Awards 2022; Chambers currently has 80% female silks and 41% female juniors, with 40% BME silks and 21% BME juniors.

Types of work undertaken

5 Essex Chambers is widely acknowledged to be one of the leading sets for inquests, public inquiries, police law and professional discipline, but also has leading practitioners in a variety of other areas such as employment and immigration. A total of 21 members of Chambers (40%) have been appointed to the Attorney General’s civil panel of counsel, resulting in instructions on a wide range of public law matters.


5 Essex Chambers offers up to two pupillages each year. The pupillage year commences in September. 5 Essex Chambers prides itself on providing pupils with a supportive, friendly and constructive environment in which to learn and begin their practices. Chambers’ commitment to pupils is reflected in the very high retention rate (85% over the last 15 years) and a carefully structured pupillage year. Pupils have three supervisors and Chambers aims to ensure that pupils experience the full range of work available. Pupils also receive in-house advocacy training and a Talks Programme that is designed to introduce different areas of practice and to provide more general guidance for a successful life at the Bar.

Applications can be made through the Pupillage Gateway.

Mini pupillages

Instead of a rolling mini pupillage programme, 5 Essex Chambers hosts regular online Open Evenings called Inside Five. At these events, potential pupils will have the chance to hear from the most senior members of Chambers down to the newest tenants. Inside Five aims to provide a better understanding of what it means to be a barrister, how to make a strong pupillage application and to offer an insight into 5 Essex Chambers.

5 Essex Chambers also partners with three initiatives, all aimed at improving access to the Bar:

a. Inner Temple’s Pegasus Access and Support Scheme (“PASS”). This scheme is aimed at high-achieving students from under-represented backgrounds.

b. Middle Temple’s Access to the Bar Award, which provides a mini-pupillage and marshalling experience to those from under-represented backgrounds.

c. The Bar Council’s Bar Placement Scheme, which provides an opportunity to sixth formers to spend time in Chambers.


5 Essex Chambers offers pupils a minimum of £65,000 during their pupillage year, comprising a £35,000 award and £30,000 guaranteed earnings. A drawdown of up to £10,000 is available. In addition to the award, Chambers funds any compulsory courses and any travel outside of London with a pupil supervisor, as well as providing study time for the mandatory Ethics exam.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Police Law: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
    • Inquests & Public Inquiries (Band 1)
    • Professional Discipline (Band 3)