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THE EUROPEAN Commission is investigating charges of restrictive practices at the Bar.
The commission confirmed on Friday that Karel Van Miert, the commissioner for competition, had written to the Bar Council asking for details of its code of conduct.
But it would not give any details of the allegations levelled against the Bar nor would it indicate how seriously the complaint was being treated.
"There has been a complaint about restrictive practices and the commissioner has requested information in order to check the Bar Council's rules," was all a spokeswoman for the directorate would say.
If the commission ruled the council was anti-competitive it would have powers to fine it or order a change of rules. The timing of the probe is unfortunate given Labour's pledge to refer the Bar to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
But sources within the Bar Council moved swiftly to play down the threat posed by the complaint which was lodged with the commission last May.
They claimed the complainant, who the commission is not naming, was not a credible opponent.
A Bar Council spokeswoman said the Bar was co operating fully with the commission in its investigation.
"We received the letter from the commission in January and we have responded to the points of information that it raised," she said.
Barrister Niamh McCarthy, of the European competition law specialist chambers 12 Gray's Inn Square, said the first phase of any commission investigation was administrative and could last for several years.
But she stressed it was likely the commission was still deciding whether to mount a full investigation under regulation 17 of its procedural rules.