Apprentice barristers being ‘refused entry’ to court due to pandemic

One apprentice complains of being ‘roared at’ to leave due to Covid-19 restrictions

The Bar Council recognised that devils’ attendance at court had been ‘significantly impacted’ by the pandemic. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

The Bar Council recognised that devils’ attendance at court had been ‘significantly impacted’ by the pandemic. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

Apprentice barristers are missing out on vital work experience as many cannot attend court due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Under Courts Service regulations, the maximum number of people allowed in court at any one time is strictly limited and depends on the size of the courtroom. In most courtrooms the limit is eight to 12 people, including the judge, barristers, solicitors, gardaí, witnesses and reporters.

This means there is frequently not enough room for apprentice barristers, known as devils, to attend court with their “masters” – qualified barristers who agree to take on apprentices – and observe proceedings.

Devilling is considered a key part of barrister training and can last for up to two years. It is usually unpaid and takes place after they have completed exams in the Kings Inn.

In May the Bar Council circulated guidelines stating there should be no issue with devils attending court. “Unfortunately in practice that is now effectively impossible,” one devil said.

Devils are now “refused entry and cannot attend. On a number of occasions I have been instructed – in fact, roared at – to leave by tipstaff,” he said.

“Devils are largely not remunerated, which is falsely rationalised by us getting experience in return – now we don’t even get that much.

“Many people have had little work for the past three months and this now compounds it going forward. It is also completely unclear how this is compatible with justice being done in public.”

Possible solutions

A spokesman for the Bar Council, which oversees the barrister profession, said it recognised that devils’ attendance at court had been “significantly impacted” by the pandemic.

It said it had made representations to the Courts Service to explore solutions to the issue in line with the “continued safe operation of the courts”.

“The Bar continues to propose and advance workable solutions to these issues, and undoubtedly the courts and judiciary appreciate the importance of direct experience and involvement in court proceedings in the professional formation of young barristers.”

The Courts Service is also beginning to hold hearings in larger, non-court buildings where more people can attend.