Education, diversity and social mobility

The Commercial Court is committed to increasing the diversity of the Court and to improving access to the professions which appear in the Court. It is involved in projects that target both ends of the diversity timeline – entry into the professions and entry to the judiciary

Entry into the profession:

Work with Sutton Trust/Pathways to Law and the National Justice Museum via the Rolls Building Art and Education Trust.

The Rolls Building Courts offer regular two-hour education programmes. The two-hour session takes place in a real working court room and consists of the following:

  • Students are introduced to the role of the Rolls Building as part of the High Court
  • Students work on a real legal case study based on a previous High Court or commercial dispute resolution case (which currently include an Intellectual Property dispute, a commercial Negligence case study and an Arbitration workshop)
  • Students work alongside trainee barristers to prepare and enact their case
  • Students take on roles such as claimants, defendants and judges, experiencing key aspects of a trial
  • Students have the chance to meet a High Court judge, speak with them about their role and discus opportunities for pursuing a career in the law

We continued engagement with the Sutton Trust throughout COVID, participating in a number of online initiatives (including producing video segments about the courts’ work for the Sutton Trust virtual conference and participating in online workshops with students discussing legal problems specially designed for the events). This has led, since COVID, to additional hybrid events including open days and panel discussions.

IntoUniversity Scheme:

In 2021 the Commercial Court developed a pilot scheme with IntoUniversity, a charity which works to provide focussed long-term support to break cycles of disadvantage.

That scheme is now firmly established, having doubled in size in 2022, and extended to all of the Business and Property Courts jurisdictions in London. Its aim is to do more to make a career in commercial law more visible, more relatable and more attainable. Commercial law (which is rarely seen on screen and which is often international rather than local) is often not thought of as a career by students coming from more diverse backgrounds.

The scheme is set up so that each candidate spends a day with a judge. The day starts with an introductory talk with a couple of judges, explaining the kind of law they will see. Each student then spends the day with an assigned judge in court, discussing the cases one on one. The day concludes with an informal Q&A session with further judges and some younger practitioners who can share insights about entering the profession.

In summer 2024 the scheme will be extended to three regional centres: Birmingham, Leeds, and Newcastle via the Circuit Commercial Courts.

Bridging the Bar and the High Court, Court of Appeal and Commercial Court

In March 2022, Bridging the Bar (BTB) and the High Court / Court of Appeal agreed to collaborate on a pilot work experience programme (‘the internship’) for aspiring lawyers from statistically under-represented backgrounds at the Bar. This scheme will see eight to 12 BTB participants assigned to a Judge and supported by their Judicial Assistant(s) in the High Court / Court of Appeal for a paid five-day work experience placement. Candidates will be paid the London Living Wage.

In the first week of November 2022 the Court took its first two successful Bridging the Bar candidates and they spent their week closely shadowing the Judicial Assistants who work for Mr Justice Butcher and Mr Justice Picken, affording them the opportunity to gain a keen understanding of the role of both the Judicial Assistants themselves as well as the Commercial Court Judges.

A Bridging the Bar workshop was held on the afternoon of 18 January 2023. The workshop was designed to encourage candidates to apply for the High Court Judicial Assistant (JA) programme either this year or in future years, with a view to both increasing the diversity of the JA intake and providing career development opportunities for candidates who might not otherwise have considered applying for the JA programme. The workshop involved practising writing applications, analysing last year’s case study and answering interview questions for the Judicial Assistant programme. There was also time for a full discussion between Chancery and Commercial Judges and those attending the workshop.

The Commercial Court participated in the December 2023 Bridging the Bar (“BTB”) Outreach Programme, following the success of last year’s pilot. The programme ran for the week of 20 November, with interns shadowing judges, attending a variety of court hearings and participating in out-of-court workshops. Mr Justice Foxton, the Judge in Charge of the Commercial Court, hosted one of the interns, and was one of the judges who participated in the equality and inclusion session.

The four key objectives of this programme are as follows:

Objective 1 – To provide participants with an insight into the High Court / Court of Appeal and the opportunity to get to know some of the Judges that work there.

Participants gain a unique insight into how the High Court / Court of Appeal operates in practice. This access enables candidates to understand the various roles that are needed to support the work of the Judges, as well as an insight into the decision-making processes of the Judges themselves. Candidates get to know the Judges and their journey to the judiciary.

Objective 2 – To stimulate candidates intellectually and improve their confidence.

Participants have the opportunity to engage with live work and are actively encouraged to contribute to discussions and/or produce research related to existing cases. They gain at least one opportunity to produce written work, which is intellectually stimulating, challenging and relevant to the work of the High Court / Court of Appeal.

Objective 3 – To facilitate mutual learning.

Participants have an opportunity to share their individual experiences with Judges, Judicial Assistants and staff of the High Court / Court of Appeal. This provides the Court with an insight into the challenges faced by aspiring lawyers from underrepresented groups, with the intention of stimulating further conversations and in turn, contributing to positive change. It enables mutual preconceptions to be challenged: it might not be known, for example, that several of the currently serving commercial court judges were educated at their local state secondary schools before attending university.

Objective 4 – To encourage and support participants to pursue a career in law.

The programme encourages participants to pursue a career in law and supports them in developing the necessary skillset. It enhances participants’ confidence and expand their network. By virtue of its reputation, completion of this programme will be of great benefit to participants.

The candidates:

Candidates will be selected from the pool of 100 candidates placed on the BTB Academy Scheme. To be eligible for this programme, they must be in their final year of an LLB or enrolled onto the PGDL. They must intend to apply for pupillage within this academic year.

Candidates will be selected specifically for this programme based on the following criteria:

  1. Demonstrative interest in the law – this can be demonstrated through the level of detail and enthusiasm in their answers, not necessarily the completion of extensive legal experience.
  2. Mutual Learning – a candidate’s ability to share their lived experiences eloquently in a way which will open up dialogue with senior professionals.
  3. Likelihood to benefit from the programme –candidates whom this programme will benefit the most will be selected.

For more information, visit the Bridging the Bar website.

Applications for the 2024 Bridging the Bar (BTB) internship scheme will be announced on the BTB Academy site.

Other initiatives

The court assists with marshalling programmes designed to increase diversity which are offered by COMBAR, the Judicial Office, and the Inns.

On 14 December 2022, the court hosted a visit from sixth formers from St Michael’s Catholic College, a comprehensive school in Bermondsey. The visit was arranged by Sebastian Isaac KC of One Essex Court. During the course of the visit, the students gained insight into law as a career, and the work of the Commercial Court. They observed a case, and met the judge.

Judges of the Court are also frequently involved in diversity initiatives outside London. On 8 February 2023 Mr Justice Henshaw judged a regional heat of the Young Citizens Bar Mock Trial Competition 2022/23 in Oxford Crown Court. The participants were aged 15-18 and were from a variety of state schools in the South East. The competition is run by the Young Citizens team (a Citizenship Foundation initiative) and supported by the Bar Councils of E&W and Northern Ireland, Faculty of Advocates, Inns of Court and HMCTS. Visit this webpage for further information on Smart Law Mock Trials.

Judicial Diversity:

The Commercial Court is committed to offering focussed mentoring to a range of candidates aspiring to the High Court Bench who are realistic targets for the Rolls Building courts. This follows on from a Judicial Office scheme in partnership with CLLS in 2017-2018.

In autumn 2021 the court held a roundtable with the Law Society attended by Law Society President I Stephanie Boyce and representatives of all the major commercial solicitors organisations (CLLS, LSLA and CLF), Carr LJ and representatives of JAC to enable the courts and the JAC to try to identify some ways to assist less traditional candidates and help them to navigate the application process.

Contact has since been made with a number of prospective solicitor applicants for 9(4) Deputy High Court Judge roles and arrangements made to provide them with targeted one on one mentoring through the process. Other aspiring candidates are encouraged to make themselves known ether direct or through the Judicial Office diversity section.