What is human rights law? A guide for aspiring barrister pupils

Last updated: 25 Aug 2023, 14:00

Human rights law is a fascinating and intellectually challenging area, with an interesting human and legal dimension.

A statue of Martin Luther King Jr

One of the best aspects of this area of practice is that it is fascinating and intellectually challenging with an interesting human and legal dimension. On the downside, an 80–90 hour working week is not unusual.

What is human rights law at the Bar?

Human rights challenges are typically brought by reference to the Human Rights Act, to the common law, and other specific bodies of law. The majority of human rights work at the Bar involves a challenge to the exercise of governmental or public power.

What do human rights barristers do?

Cases can arise out of a wide range of issues, such as detention and torture during armed conflict; access to private electronic communications and the legality of suspicion-less stop and search powers. Cases vary in length depending on their complexity – important issues of public international law and domestic constitutional law can last years, while straightforward cases can be resolved quickly.

Clients from all backgrounds may bring claims against the government and it is not unusual to have seven big, long-running human rights cases at any one time. Travel overseas is common, depending on the cases you are working on.

What is life like as a human rights law pupil?

Pupils keep reasonable working hours and rarely work late or at weekends. Expect paperwork and drafting, perhaps producing a first draft of a skeleton argument, particulars of claim or a longer advice. Pupils will not likely take their own cases until after the tenancy decision.

What skills do you need to be a human rights law barrister?

A genuine interest in the subject matter is helpful for human rights barristers to maintain a broad knowledge of the topics. Sensitive interpersonal skills are a must – this helps with clients and puts you in good stead with other lawyers. A cool head and a calm temperament are also useful.

Types of law practised within human rights law

  • European.
  • Strasbourg court case law.
  • Public international law.
  • Public law.
  • Judicial review.
  • International humanitarian law.
  • Human rights.

How much can I earn as a human rights law pupil?

You will likely shadow a number of different members of chambers alongside your pupil supervisor and may later specialise in one area of law (generally one of chambers’ specialties) once you have been in practice for some time. As such it can be tricky to nail down exact earnings for early tenants, but you can take a look at our overview of how much you can earn as a pupil barrister to get a general idea of how much each chambers offers to pupils. Sets in the more commercially orientated areas tend to offer between £40,000 and £75,000 for 12 months but there is a huge variation by practice area.

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