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THE Bar Council has had to admit it cannot force barristers to disbar if they qualify as solicitors.
The Bar Council's hand was forced after barrister Sally Hughes began practising as a solicitor last year and refused to voluntarily disbar, the usual practice for barristers becoming solicitors.
The Bar sought counsel's opinion and was advised that there is no requirement for barristers to disbar voluntarily on joining the Roll of Solicitors.
Chair of the Bar Council's professional standards committee David Hirst QC said the Bar would make a final decision on the matter later this month, but said that for the time being it was advising barristers who qualify as solicitors "that they would be much more sensible to disbar because they will otherwise have the problem of being regulated by two professional bodies".
He added: "This is not an insistence, simply advice."
It had been a Law Society rule that barristers joining the Roll of Solicitors voluntarily disbar. However, the society dropped this rule three years ago.
Hughes, now a litigation solicitor at London firm Ole Hansen & Co, said: "I refused to disbar as a matter of principle. No other profession has this rule. You don't have to hand back your degree if you become a dustman. Disbarment is an unfair rule hanging over from the time of separateness which has been Bar policy for a long time. The Bar is paranoid about fusion."
She described the Bar's new advice to voluntarily disbar as "silly". "What is the point of voluntarily disbarring and then having to re-admit when you want to return to the Bar?
"They know they are wrong and they are climbing down. It is a victory."
Under the Bar Code of Conduct, lawyers are still not allowed to practice as solicitors and barristers at the same time. At the Bar's AGM last June, Hughes, backed by council member Neil Addison, proposed an amendment to the code of conduct to remove the restriction and allow practising barristers to practice as solicitors at the same time. The motion, which was voted down, proposed they be governed by Bar rules for court work and solicitors' rules for non-court work.