When one thinks of Qualifying Sessions, what comes to mind is often lectures relating to interesting points of law; dinners and/or seminars. Tough Topics blows this notion of a Qualifying Session completely out of the water. There have been a few Tough Topic sessions, each has a similar premise; a controversial topic is chosen, and two speakers are invited to argue either for or against said topic. The first session I attended was on the topic of torture. The two panellists had ten minutes to argue for or against whether torture could ever be justified. We heard from one of the most eminent human rights’ barristers in the country on the position that torture was never justified. Providing a counter argument was a philosophy professor from America who provided an interestingly structured argument setting out some occasions where torture could be justified. 

The second Tough Topics session I attended was ‘Shamima Begum: Terrorist or Troubled Teen’. This was eloquently opened by Master Hussey and the moderator was Ishan Kolhatkar, former Principal Lecturer at BPP University. Two amazing speakers each took a stance on this topic. Master Bob Neill argued that Shamima Begum was a terrorist and Master Shami Chakrabarti argued that she was a troubled teen. While these sessions as described so far seem like normal Qualifying Sessions, following both parties’ submissions, the floor was opened to questions. There are strict rules for attending the Tough Topic sessions. The most important being that you cannot ask one sided questions; they must be neutral and with a view only to eliciting more information from the speakers. This is much harder than one thinks – especially with such interesting, emotive, and decisive topics as torture and Shamima Begum. Both speakers answer the questions from those in attendance and there are multiple opportunities to press each speaker for further information. The session was then rounded up with the moderator picking someone to summarise both parties’ stances in a neutral manner. 

Both speakers were incredibly engaging, and captivated the audience with their arguments. These sessions are so interesting you find yourself wishing you had more time to listen to the back and forth. 

In conclusion, if you want a Qualifying Session which brings out all the qualities you need in a barrister, this session is for you. You learn to think differently, ask questions differently and summarise arguments in a neutral manner. You also get the opportunity to hear some of the most bright and engaging speakers in the legal community today. If you think you have conclusively made your mind up on any decisive topic, I encourage you to attend Tough Topics – you may find that it challenges your core beliefs!

Nishma is a qualified solicitor transferring to the Bar. She currently works at the Crown Prosecution Service.