There's no need to get arrested to get to grips with police law: a pupillage at 5EC is probably a better bet.
“There's technically no such thing as 'police law',” asserts senior clerk Mark Waller. Not what you expect to hear from a set which specialises in police law. But he continues: “It's a term we and others have started to use to define the work we do.” To be fair, it's a pretty accurate catch-all for what 5EC specialises in: civil police-related work including inquests, judicial reviews, public inquiries, false imprisonment cases, other litigation brought against the police and more. Waller continues: “It's an ever-changing field. Our client base has expanded to local authorities, coroners and more individuals.” It's not all cops and robbers: 5EC also accommodates employment specialists and personal injury work. “As a pupil roughly 60% of my work was distinctly police law,” a source revealed.
The breadth of work may have grown, but Waller says 5EC's “methods haven't changed and we've maintained the same team ethos, working together for the 5 Essex Court brand.” He suggests membership won't ever go far past 50 barristers to preserve the 'everyone knows everyone' feel, and says: “The beauty of this environment is there's always noticeably new blood coming through to keep us young.” The set's done well to keep up with the kids so far, nabbing the @Pupillages Twitter handle before anyone else. 5EC also boasts a more progressive gender balance than most (38% of members are female including three QCs) and is focusing more on data and information law. “We face a unique range of challenges working with the police,” Georgina Wolfe explains. “One day we'll be relying on evidence from an old tape recorder, the next on cutting edge facial recognition software.”
“You need to consider the broader implications of what's going on.”
Interviewees told us they were looking for public law sets when they zeroed in on 5 Essex Court. One source “appreciated the bigger picture and political element to the work done here. It makes things more challenging because you need to consider the broader implications of what's going on.” Pupillage committee member Georgina Wolfe feels 5EC “punches above its weight given its size” – Chambers UK agrees, handing the set top rankings for defendant police law and inquests/public inquiry work.
Over the years 5EC has taken on some infamous matters ranging from the Hillsborough Inquests to the historic child sex abuse and Leveson inquiries. Recently barristers have been active on the public inquiry into the shooting of Anthony Grainger by police officers, the London Bridge terror attack inquests, and the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Police forces across the country call on members' expertise: South Yorkshire Police did so for the much-publicised misuse of private information case brought by Cliff Richard. Even pupils sometimes work on headline-grabbing matters, as in 2018 when a third-sixer acted as international adviser in a case leading to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago. Past pupils have also had a hand in the inquests into the deaths of squaddies at the Deepcut Barracks and the 2015 terror attack in Sousse in Tunisia.
Pupillage consists of three four-month seats, each with a different supervisor. “The work you do early on is guided by who you're sat with,” the idea being to get a feel for everything chambers does across the year. Georgina Wolfe confirms: “Everybody will normally do one police law-heavy seat, one with a public law focus and one in employment,” though there is scope for pupils to lean more towards particular areas they're interested in.
At first, work comes exclusively from your supervisor. “They sent me a set of papers and I took the first crack at an advice, skeleton argument or defence,” a source reported. “They'd then red-line the changes they'd made.” Research into obscure topics is another pupil staple, and we mean obscure – one pupil remembered “looking into the illegal online dried seahorse trade for an NGO pro bono matter.” After a bedding-in period pupils can go to other members for work, but it all goes through the supervisor who “makes sure you're not overloaded.” Pupils we spoke to said they'd got exposure to inquiries, police matters, inquests, judicial reviews and misconduct claims, as well as personal injury. It sounds like a lot, but “supervisors are very strict about you only working 9am to 6pm, especially starting out.” The second six comes with longer days as pupils get more autonomy.
“The clerks are really good at building us up slowly.”
By that stage “your own cases take priority,” and you'll be on your feet almost immediately. “It's slightly terrifying,” one pupil admitted about their first time in court, “but the clerks are really good at building us up slowly.” Interviewees reeled off a catalogue of cases they'd worked on ranging from domestic violence protection orders, dangerous dogs, firearms and sexual harm to taxi licensing, small claims involving incidents with police cars, and football hooliganism. One pupil told us: “I've spoken in County Court a few times. I also had smaller roles on some massive cases.” 5EC represents police forces across the country, so lots of travel and getting familiar with Britain's rail network is par for the course.
Every piece of work pupils do for their supervisor is assessed, though they get a three-month grace period for those “inevitable mistakes.” 5EC doesn't run formal assessments, a blessing for pupils who believed “exam-style tests aren't realistic in practice. We get formal feedback sheets throughout pupillage which provide really constructive feedback.” Around May prospective juniors submit a tenancy application form with two written pieces they've done during pupillage attached – “you'll have had feedback on them so you'll know they're strong.” Interviewees commended 5EC for being “very transparent from the beginning about tenancy,” and pupillage committee head Jeremy Johnson QC tells us: “Throughout pupillage assessment is focused on whether tenancy is likely. The tenancy decision isn't based on business need, but whether the candidate is good enough.” In 2018 both pupils joined the tenant ranks.
You have the right to remain friendly
We hear time and again from this chambers about its “lack of hierarchy and real cohesion,” and after a tour of 5 Essex Court we can confirm they're a convivial bunch. “You can talk to anyone as an equal,” asserted one interviewee. “I came across an ethical problem and my supervisor quickly put me onto head of chambers Jason Beer, who was a fantastic help.” Juniors often get together for impromptu drinks or lunch in Hall, though insiders noted: “There aren't as many young people as at some sets. People often have families to go home to, so we're not out drinking every night.” There are a few chambers-wide traditions including a “very important” annual fourth floor party hosted by members there – “I have no idea what the story behind that is,” a junior chuckled. A super-informal chambers tea was recently introduced on Friday afternoons, which pupils agreed “is a really nice opportunity to see senior members in a relaxed environment.”
“We've rejected incredible candidates because their interests don't match our practice.”
Georgina Wolfe asserts: “There's no one-size-fits-all pupil type.” She also tells us: “Many applicants don't realise it's very important to us that we find somebody who will be happy here. We've rejected incredible candidates because their interests don't match our practice.” So do thorough research on 5 Essex Court's specialisms and decide if they genuinely match up with your interests prior to applying.
Every year 5EC publishes an impressively detailed report on its most recent application and interview round – you can find it on the set's website and we think it's essential reading for anybody interested in applying for pupillage anywhere. Wannabe pupils apply through the Gateway, and initial applications are assessed based on academic ability, work experience, clarity of presentation, mini-pupillages done and other special features. The best 30 or so candidates come in for a first interview involving problem questions testing legal knowledge, presentation skills, motivation and communication. Jeremy Johnson QC highlights that the set particularly looks to test “oral advocacy skills in various different settings and ability to get on with clients.” Ten or so applicants go through to round two, which includes further questions and an advocacy exercise. Georgina Wolfe reveals: “Questions will often stem from current events and personal views candidates have expressed on their application.” Be prepared to talk about past work experience too. The application process then ends with an informal drinks reception.
Each week a different member hosts a 'pupil talk' on a specialist topic. These are aimed at newbies, but barristers of all levels turn up.
5 Essex Court
5 Essex Court,
- No of silks 5
- No of juniors 35
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Miss Georgina Wolfe. 020 7410 2000
- Method of application Pupillage Gateway
- Pupillages (pa) Up to two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies Percentage of pupils offered tenancy: 87%
Chambers’ work is exciting and often high profile with members of all levels involved in the majority of significant cases, public inquiries and inquests involving the police. Pupils and juniors in the last few years have been involved in such cases as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse, Undercover Policing Inquiry, Belhaj v Jack Straw and others (rendition), Jones v AG Trinidad and Tobago (challenge to law criminalising homosexuality) and the inquests arising from the Tunisian shootings, Deepcut and the Hillsborough disaster. Junior tenants and pupils appear, alone or led, in a wide range of courts and tribunals, from the Magistrates’ Court to the Supreme Court. Police law also encompasses jury advocacy in civil trials for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution as well as inquests.
Types of work undertaken
Chambers operates an equal opportunities selection policy for pupils and tenants and particularly encourages applicants from minority groups and groups who are underrepresented at the Bar.
There is no requirement to complete a mini-pupillage in chambers in order to be considered for pupillage.
There are three mini-pupillage seasons and applications can be made online through the website.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018
- Inquests & Public Inquiries (Band 1)
- Police Law: Mainly Defendant (Band 1)
- Professional Discipline (Band 3)