Bar-wide elections proposed

PLANS to open up the election of the Bar Council chair to all barristers and provide a minimum salary for pupils and young tenants are among a raft of motions before this Saturday's Bar Council AGM.

The Bar Council leadership has indicated it will oppose the call for Bar-wide elections for the chair and other senior posts, and there is scepticism about a minimum salary.

But there is support for a third motion, tabled by Lincoln Crawford, Bar Race Relations Committee chair, which calls on the four Inns of Court to adopt an equal opportunities code.

The motion for greater democracy at the Bar has been tabled by democracy campaigner Robin de Wilde QC.

But the Bar Council leadership will argue the election issue is dead in the water, after a recent survey by a democracy working party, led by treasurer Michael Blair, found a majority against the idea.

A spokesman added that the recent controversial contested elections for the Law Society presidency may have hardened attitudes at the Bar. But ex-Bar Council treasurer Martin Bowley QC said the elections had opened up valid debates.

The call for minimum salaries was made by Department of Trade and Industry legal adviser Anthony Gafoor, who recently formed the Association of Non-practising Barristers. He wants the Bar Council to co-ordinate funding for talented pupils and tenants struggling financially, with a benchmark level for all pupils and tenants of below two-years' call set at about £10,000.

“I don't think it is an idea the Bar Council feels obliged to deal with,” he said.

Both the Inns and the Bar Council have reacted cautiously to the proposal. The Bar Council spokesman said it had no fixed position and would listen closely to the arguments.

Crawford's motion, which was seconded by Laura Cox QC, head of chambers at Cloisters, pointed out that a draft equal opportunities code for the Inns of Court had been prepared four years ago, but still no “comprehensive code” had been adopted.

Middle Temple under treasurer Charles Wright said the Inns could settle on a common code as early as July, although he would not comment on the reasons why it had taken four years to reach an agreement.