5 Essex Court - True Picture

“Working in the grey area between criminal and civil law,” this is the place to get your hands on police cases any barrister would find ‘arresting’…

5 Essex Court pupillage review

The Chambers

“About 60% of our practice is what we class as police law,”5EC senior clerk Mark Waller begins. ‘Police law’ isn’t a real practice area in the strictest sense, and members work on a broad range of “cases related to police forces: public law, inquests, civil claims, disciplinary matters and inquiries. Anything where a police force is challenged legally.”Having eagerly watched every episode of The Bill (possibly), pupils were drawn to the set by the idea of doing police law. “It’s quite unique,”a baby junior noted. “There aren’t many sectors where you can work in the grey area between criminal and civil law.” Head of chambers Jason Beer recently represented the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) in a civil claim brought by six police officers after three investigations resulting in disciplinary proceedings – one concerned the officers’ use of a Taser on a fireman in the aftermath of the London riots.

The remaining 40% of 5EC’s practice includes local government work and representing organisations ranging from the DWP to MI5. “It all slots into one package,” according to Waller. “A long time ago when we were doing just police work, we looked at the other organisations we could work with to mirror that expertise.” 5 Essex Court’s Alan Payne QC recently acted for the Home Secretary in an appeal before the Supreme Court on a challenge to immigration rules in the UK. Cases range from regulatory, immigration, inquests, employment and healthcare to a small amount of private client work. Waller says that by largely focusing on police and government bodies, 5EC gets “fingers in a lot of practices, giving us the ability to expand both defence and claimant sides.”

"Making a difference is about so much more than going to court."

Pupils were impressed by the number of women at chambers: “They have an impressive commitment to diversity and lots of female QCs.” Approximately 10%-15% of barristers at 5EC come from a minority ethnic background. The set told us that “while this is broadly in line with figures published by the BSB in relation to the Bar as a whole, 5EC is firmly committed to taking steps to encourage and recruit more minority ethnic barristers and members of staff.” Though the prospect of defending police forces may put off certain applicants, Reichhold has a counter-argument: “After working on the claimant side for eight years before joining 5 Essex, I find that if you really want to make a difference, you should work defendant-side. As counsel you are advising the entity which everyone is trying to change in some way.” Reichhold tells us: “Making a difference is about so much more than going to court. It’s about advice, mediations and trying to get our clients to do things better.” For example, the head of chambers is working on an upcoming appeal about how police forces use facial recognition.

The Pupillage Experience

Pupils complete three four-month seats, each with a different supervisor. Reichhold says supervisors are chosen “to provide the right kind of work at the right time for that pupil.” Pupils only do work for their supervisor at first. Skeleton arguments, research pieces and advices are common tasks; pupils also “shadow other members at court and see what they’ll soon be doing themselves.” After a while pupils can seek out written or professional privilege tasks from other members. As an example of a privilege case, “the police will seize someone’s laptop but there are letters from lawyers on it,” a source explained. Pupils sift through information and remove any privileged information: “On a laptop it’s easier, but once an officer came around with sack of loose papers from the bottom of the client’s car. I had it spread out all over the floor to go through it!”

Common cases during pupillage include civil actions against police forces, defending judicial reviews for government bodies and “top-level policy advisory work with high-level QCs, which is really interesting and exciting.” Pupils get on their feet quickly in the second six, where they can expect to regularly be making civil applications for the police: “I’ve appeared on stalking protection, proceeds of crime and sexual risk orders. You’re typically acting for a police force in a magistrates' or county court, but it’s a civil rather than criminal matter.” Pupils can expect to be in court anywhere between two to five days a week in normal circumstances. Early advisory work can be “scary at first,” but sources told us supervisors are “really encouraging and offer to look over anything before you send it out with your own name on it! They’re great at building your confidence.”

"It’s clear what’s expected of you at every stage.”

Supervisors assess every piece of work their pupil does, giving them a “list of concrete points to work on.” The tenancy process is likewise “totally transparent – it’s clear what’s expected of you at every stage.” There’s no formal exam-style assessment, but rather a “shortish” application form based on the Government Legal Department’s civil C Panel counsel application form. “We’ve found the form fits what we look for and provides a good springboard for a pupil to set out what they’ve learnt,” Reichhold says. Pupils attach their best work from throughout the year before the application “circulates to all members of chambers. They read it and complete a survey that goes on to the pupillage committee.” Reports from clerks, clients and supervisors all influence their decision. “It’s always going to be tricky and stressful,” a baby junior noted. “I found that at 5EC it was transparent and fair. You’re never taken by surprise at any stage.” One pupil secured tenancy in 2020.

There’s an enjoyable environment at chambers, everyone’s aiming to help everyone else.” Junior members have a WhatsApp group they can use to “ask for help without worrying about looking foolish.” The Bar may have a reputation for snootiness, but we heard there’s “a very clear intention to mix people of all levels” at 5EC. “I’ve picked up so many different tricks from other people popping in, chatting and telling each other stories.” There is, however, a “social downside” for members – because they represent police forces all over the UK, “working here involves a lot of travel. If you hate trains, this isn’t for you!” Though it’s hard to meet for ad hoc drinks or lunches, “members try their best to make the most of it when people are around.”

The Application Process

In 2020, 5 Essex Court received about 350 applications through the Pupillage Gateway, whittled down to around 30 for first round interviews. The set redacts all personal information including names and universities. “Everyone on the pupillage committee does diversity and implicit bias training,” Reichhold says. The committee picks a handful of applications that prove “the most difficult to mark,” which they separately assess, before having a meeting in which those candidates are used as the “benchmark for the sift that year.”

For the first-round interview, a panel poses each applicant legal and non-legal questions. “Some are only halfway through the GDL and others may have a PhD in law,” Reichhold acknowledges. “We try to create a level playing field.” This year one of the legal scenarios was an off-duty police officer that “went rogue” trying to catch a serial cat killer (the Dulwich Moggy Murderer). “We don’t expect you to have a detailed knowledge of our practice areas or case law; we’re looking at how you structure ideas and get your point across.”Around ten candidates progress to a second-round interview, which includes an advocacy exercise and questions on a topical issue. “In 2020 we asked about coronavirus regulations and if the candidate considered them fair,”Reichhold reveals. This year the panel asked candidates to advocate for both sides of the argument. Though the “process is rigorous,”pupils told us their interviews were “a humane process. The panel were very gentle and friendly, expanded their questions and gave me little nudges when needed. They genuinely wanted the best of me.” 5EC takes up to two pupils a year.

“We try to create a level playing field.”

At the end of the process, chambers publishes an incredibly thorough and “super helpful” Pupillage Selection Report that we’d recommend you read no matter what chambers you’re applying to. The report “explains exactly what constituted strong or weak answers at each stage of the process, from the paper sift-through to the first-round and second-round interviews,” Reichhold explains. The report covers everything from typos to detailed responses to questions and serves to “level the playing field. It makes sure that everyone has fair insight into the interview process.”

Justice league 

Senior clerk Mark Waller predicts claims will eventually arise from the Black Lives Matter protests and right-wing counter-protests in the UK, but that the court backlog from the Covid-19 crisis will see that “only injunctions and very urgent matters will be dealt with initially.”


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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2020

Ranked Departments

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