A proposed clearing house for law graduates seeking training places in barristers' chambers should help protect women applicants from sexual harrassment, the Bar Council said this week.
Peter Goldsmith, the Bar Council's chairman, said plans for a single applications process run by a clearing house office of the Bar could allay concern arising from claims that some female students had been offered pupillages in return for sex.
Proposals drawn up by a working group set up under Michael Beloff QC would allow students seeking pupillages to apply to a limited number of chambers by completing a single application form.
A consultation paper to be unveiled next week suggests chambers would join the scheme on a voluntary basis, paying about Pounds 10 for each processed application. Students who failed to find a training place in the first round could be offered vacant places through a clearing system.
The idea was one of a series of reforms outlined by Mr Goldsmith for his year in office, and was originally intended to address the "unacceptable burden" on students and chambers of finding and allocating pupillages. Each year about 1,000 Bar School students chase about 700 training places.
But claims made last week by Barbara Hewson, chairwoman of the Association of Women Barristers, that some women students seeking pupillages suffered sexual harrassment, have drawn the Bar's attention to the scheme's potential for enhancing equal opportunities in the training market.
Mr Goldsmith said he did not believe that women students were regularly offered traineeships for sex.
But he added: "I do believe the clearing house scheme will raise the level of confidence in the way training places are allocated."
A Bar Council spokesman added that the consultation paper provided an opportunity for sexual harrassment issues to be addressed.
"The issue is now a matter of public debate and interest, and this is a chance for suggestions to be made on how safeguards can be built into the clearing house system," he said.