Govt legal appointment prompts calls for greater accountability

THE APPOINTMENT of a member of the Lord Chancellor's old chambers as the First Junior Treasury Counsel has fuelled demands for the Government to make legal appointments more open and accountable.

Philip Sales – an up-and-coming commercial barrister – takes over from Stephen Richards in the prestigious post of First Junior Treasury Counsel, Common Law, this week.

The appointment raised eyebrows within the profession because Sales was not regarded as a frontrunner for the post, and was from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine's old chambers, 11 King's Bench Walk.

The Lawyer understands that a shortlist of five was drawn up before the appointment which included 39 Essex Street barrister Robert Jay, who was regarded in the Inns of Court as a frontrunner.

However, no women are believed to have been on the list. Chair of the Association of Women Barristers, Josephine Hayes, who sits on a government review committee which is looking into judicial and silk appointments, descibed the issue as one of old-fashioned patronage.

“At times I do get downcast,” she said. “My association is always banging on about objective criteria in appointments. The legal profession as a whole has been very bad at that.”

And Rosemary Emodi, a barrister and national executive board member of the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL), said: “They should be seen to be doing the right thing and we have no way of monitoring the decision-making process if it is by word of mouth or a recommendation.”

But the Solicitor General, Lord Falconer QC, said the system could not work any other way because the Government was selecting and retaining a member of the Bar to appear for it in civil matters.

He said that the Government was, in effect, a client appointing a representative.

“It's from a very small pool. It's not a job that could be selected by any sort of committee,” he said.

The SBL has drawn up a 12-point race equality action plan which it was due to present to Lord Irvine and Lord Falconer at the Minority Lawyers Conference on Saturday, after The Lawyer went to press.

Among its demands is the appointment of an equality ombudsman.