The number of tenancies on offer to newly qualified barristers plummeted by almost two-thirds in 2012 as chambers prepared for a wave of public funding cuts, according to figures published today.
However, the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board issued a statement this afternoon saying the latest figure is incorrect. The bodies said they are in the process of reviewing the statistics, but expect the number for 2012 to be 'closely aligned' with previous years.
The statistics, published jointly by the Bar Council and BSB, show that there were 194 newly registered tenancies in 2011/12 - the latest year for which figures are available - down 64% from 541 in 2010/11.
Before 2011/12 the average number of tenancies was 499 a year. Of those newly qualified barristers fortunate enough to gain sought-after tenancies, 62% were men and 9% came from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
The Bar Council and BSB said: 'The recently published Bar Barometer listed the number of new tenancies for 2011/12 as 194. This figure is incorrect. We are in the process of confirming the final figure, but current indications are that it will be more closely aligned with previous years.
'We are seeking to understand how this error occurred and are looking at related statistics which may require amendment as a result. We will issue a further update as soon as we can and apologise for this mistake.'
The third annual Bar Barometer shows the number of aspiring barristers applying for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) remained steady, while the number of students starting the course rose.
There were 3,099 applications to study on the BPTC commencing in 2010/11, with 1,422 starting the course. The following year saw 3,017 applications and 1,732 starting their studies.
Pupillage numbers, which have dropped steadily over recent years, also remained stable. In 2011/12, 446 barristers started first six pupillages and 477 second sixes, compared with 438 and 475 respectively in the previous year.
Of those starting pupillage in 2011/12, 54% were male and 79% white, showing a greater gender and ethnic disparity than in the previous year, when 46% of pupils were male and 67% white.
Overall, the number of barristers has remained the roughly the same - 15,585 held a practising certificate in 2012, an increase of four from the previous year. Of those in practice, 64% were men and 35% women, while 11% came from a BME background.
Criminal law remained the most common area of practice, accounting for 25% of barristers, followed by common law (18%), personal injury (15%) and family law (14%).
Commenting on the figures, chairman of the Young Barristers' Committee Max Hardy said: 'I assume the precipitous decline in tenancies is in publicly funded sets; there is no reason why commercial and privately funded sets would be slicing the number of tenancies.
'With that in mind, there is no doubt this [was] caused by the legal aid cuts that have [now] happened - LASPO removed funding for nearly all private family cases; threatened cuts; and the general perception that this is not a growth area at the bar.'
Hardy said he is also concerned about the number of people who drop out soon after gaining tenancy. 'This figure is not picked up anywhere and it ought to be looked into,' he said.