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BPC Focus: An interview with Jacqueline Cheltenham

Our University of Law National Programme and Student Affairs Director for the BPC, Jacqueline Cheltenham has an inspiring background in the legal profession. From pupillage to barrister, she brings her wealth of experience to our Bar Practice Course (BPC). We caught up with Jacqueline to discuss her time practising law and how that influences her teaching.

By Elsa Tatam. Published 30 June 2023. Last updated 14 August 2023.

My father was very keen for me to study law. He was a lay Magistrate in Bexley and Bromley for many years, and his brothers, my uncles, both practise law in Barbados.

I mainly practised criminal law (with the odd civil and family case). It appealed to me because I am interested in people and their actions – the human connection.

When I was in pupillage, my pupil supervisor (assisted by me) was defending in a murder case at the Old Bailey. Our client, Gordon Topen, was charged with the murder of a rich and successful businessman in Shepherd’s Bush, London. He was ultimately found guilty, but it was a very memorable case to be involved in.

We also prosecuted a case whereby a group of men were defrauding a casino. Two of them worked there (inside men as it were) and the third posed as the ‘punter’. They were found guilty, but that case was a fascinating insight into the world of casinos.

The highlight of my time as a barrister was when I had a ‘Perry Mason’,  big reveal moment. My client had been charged with burglary after being found with one of the stolen items. The item (a particular Middle Eastern letter knife) was said to be rare and unique in the UK. However, this letter knife belonged to his mother. During examination in chief, I got her to produce the case for the knife (which was in evidence), prove that it fitted perfectly and was hers and not stolen from the burglary. The case was dismissed immediately; it was very satisfying.

I came to The University of Law because, back in the mists of time, I had some friends who had left the Bar and were working here (it was called the College of Law at the time). They invited me to take part in a practitioner event, listening to students’ advocacy and giving feedback on it. I loved it, and as I had previously wanted to be a teacher, saw a way to combine law with teaching.

We are very focused on practice and we ensure that the course mirrors practice as much as possible so our students are prepared for pupillage and beyond. All our tutors have been in practice prior to teaching, either as barristers or solicitors who were advocates. When I was teaching regularly, I used my own experience to bring to life what I was teaching in the hope of letting students understand how the rules and laws apply in real life. This focus on practice is also reflected in our excellent Employability Service too, which has helped many students gain a pupillage.

Being practising professionals and teachers means that we can give students information about how the Bar works and how the courts and solicitors interact with barristers outside of the courtroom. We can also advise them on what they should be doing to help them gain pupillage etc.

Apart from seeing so many students succeed over the last 25 years, the highlight of my teaching career was when the team I coached won the National Student Negotiation Competition. We travelled to Australia to represent England and Wales. Whilst working at the university I have also had the opportunity to travel to China, Malaysia and Mauritius, which has been excellent.

My advice to anyone considering the Bar Practice Course (BPC) is to get the highest level of degree you can (as it’s very competitive). Do mini pupillages and also work experience with solicitors’ firms so you know why you’ve chosen the Bar and begin to get an idea of what areas of practice interest you. Take part in moots and mock trials as much as you can, as chambers expect students to have done some of that. Also, do some legal-related voluntary work too so you’ve seen first-hand how the justice system works.


Learn from practising professionals by studying the BPC with us today.