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THE CHANCES of radical rule changes to allow barristers to compete equally with solicitors evaporated at the Bar Council annual general meeting (AGM) last weekend, despite vocal support for change.
Newcastle-based council member Neil Addison and Rachel Brand, a criminal barrister of Coleridge chambers in Birmingham, braved accusations of being "fusionists" by proposing partnerships between barristers and with solicitors, full direct access for the public, and employment by barristers of solicitors and other barristers.
Addison said: "These proposals are not fusionist. On the contrary, they are designed to preserve the Bar, to avoid fusion by default. With solicitor advocates, that is already happening."
Brand warned that change was essential "if we are to survive as a strong, independent Bar" and called for the right to compete "on a level playing field" with solicitors.
She warned that solicitors would be handling most routine court work while City solicitors would provide advocacy as part of a "one-stop shop" service.
"The Bar relies on its superior advocacy skills...but let's not fool ourselves. There are
already 264 solicitor advocates with 200 on the way. Will the Bar wait until there are 2,000? Will it wait until it's too late?"
Rejecting the words of Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC, she said: "I am not a crazed fundamentalist, nor a merchant of doom, nor a defeatist. I am, I hope, a realist."
Employed barrister Sally Hughes called for practising barristers to be able to be practising solicitors at the same time, with such "solicitor-barristers" to be governed by Bar rules for court work and by Law Society rules for non-court work.
Goldsmith slammed the resolutions as "damaging, dangerous, and defeatist" and a "call for fusion".
He warned that they would lead to a "wholesale demolition" of the referral nature of the Bar.
The idea of the Law Society and Bar Council being able to monitor solicitor-barristers jointly was "nonsense" and Hughes' resolution would turn barristers into "second-rate solicitors", he said.
Bar vice-chair David Penry-Davie QC called the resolutions "retrograde".