The Bar Council could introduce a compulsory system of funding for student barristers.
At its next meeting in February, the council will consider proposals for funding students on the Bar vocational course and those going on to pupillages. In his inaugural address to the council, new chairman Roy Amlot said: "We will have to grapple with the thorny issue of whether there should be compulsion either on individuals or on chambers to fund pupils."
He added: "I urge the whole Bar as a matter of principle to consider, perhaps with the Inns of Court, a suitable way of providing appropriate financial support for the appropriate number of students each year. I believe it would do more for the Bar's public image than anything else."
Mr Amlot said the funding for the two-year BVC and pupillage was the most "persistent handicap" for many aspiring barristers.
The proposals have the support of Cherie Booth QC, who has described the cost of qualifying as a barrister as "astronomical" and said that it is a "scandal" that money can keep people of talent out of the profession.
However, a consultation paper on funding of pupillage put out last summer by the council got mixed responses. Many chambers indicated that if they had to fund all pupillages, the numbers would be cut. One said, "Currently, as a merged set, we offer four pupillages. Funding of pupillages would cut this down to one."
John Stanford, head of the BVC course at the College of Law, said: "Funding is a real problem for many students who are forced to take paid work through what is supposed to be a full-time course. But if chambers were forced to fund all pupillages and the numbers reduced, this could also hit equal opportunities."
Nigel Duncan, principal lecturer at the Inns of Court Law School, said:
"Many chambers already provide scholarships for BVC students. But it is questionable to what extent this improves access and to what extent it rewards existing excellence."
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