The Bar Council is facing the threat of major disruption and fierce internal opposition following the election of a leading member of the Anti Bar Council Establishment to the council
The group of around 20 barristers with similar principles to the Slate - an infamous organisation that opposed the Bar Council's regime during the 1980s - now has a foothold in the council following the landslide victory of 199 Strand's Robin de Wilde QC. The hostile views of the new group were reflected in de Wilde's election manifesto statement, in which he described the Bar Council as a "spineless organisation". However, he was widely supported, winning more votes than any other silk based on an assessment of the council's single transferable votes system. "The leaders no longer represent the great majority of the profession," he stated. "Barristers doing publicly funded work have been ignored or betrayed. Legal aid has been destroyed. The work of family lawyers has been devalued. The earnings of the criminal bar have not risen for six years. "The poor, the weak and the injured have not been so vulnerable for 50 years. The bar completely panders to the Government - this is appeasement, and appeasement never pays. If you want a change in direction, I will try and provide. I will need help." The identities of the new group opposing the Bar Council, its members, its system of election and its policies have been well guarded, but they were described by de Wilde as "descended" from the Slate, whose membership included such prominent silks as Anthony Scrivener and Anthony Speaight. Speaight said that he does not recall such a vitriolic statement in an election manifesto. "Or at any rate not since the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Slate was running and published detailed manifestoes," he said. De Wilde said he was so surprised at his election success that he aims to run candidates at the next autumn election. "I have 15 to 20 members interested, but more will come forward. We've yet to issue a manifesto." A bar spokesman described de Wilde as "widely regarded for his energy and commitment to the profession". He is a member of two prominent working parties looking at the validity of small chambers in the context of greater competition at the bar, and on accreditation. The spokesman added that the bar does not publish election result figures, so barristers are not discouraged from standing. The Slate had 30 members and ran 20 candidates with considerable success from 1985-1987. One of the Slate's lasting achievements was to limit the governing role of the Inns of Court by separating it from the Bar Council. Stephen Irwin was the only other silk elected besides de Wilde, with four silks unsuccessful. Out of a total of 2,014 ballot papers, 11 non-silks were elected. Five employed barristers were successful.