Morris in plan to scrap “soundings'

THE ATTORNEY General, John Morris QC, who is facing a sex discrimination suit, privately admitted weeks ago that his department keeps no data on Treasury Counsel appointments to enable it to judge its commitment to equal opportunities.

Last week he publicly denied allegations of sexual discrimination in his appointment of Philip Sales from Lord Irvine's former chambers.

But a month ago, The Lawyer has learned, Morris responded to a Bar Council investigation into appointments by instructing officials to investigate the possibility of advertising for Treasury Counsel posts.

He also asked officials to consider collecting data to check that the department is following equal opportunities policy. Treasury Counsel have always been appointed under an age-old system of secret soundings.

Last week barrister Josephine Hayes, chair of the Association of Women Barristers, challenged the system by filing a claim alleging Morris sexually discriminated against her by not advertising Sales' post of Treasury Devil or First Junior Treasury Counsel (Common Law).

Her lawyer, Irwin Mitchell employment partner Sara Leslie, said the Treasury panels of barristers from which Treasury Devils were appointed were dominated by men.

She said: “There is absolutely no transparency in the appointment procedures. Unless there is transparency you cannot ensure that gender is not an issue. We are very confident we are challenging the Attorney General to explain how these appointments are made.”

Hayes' move will put extra pressure on the Government to open up legal appointment procedures to more public scrutiny.

Earlier this month solicitor Jane Coker launched a similar action against the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine over his appointment of his friend Garry Hart as a special adviser.

Commenting on Morris' review, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's department said: “Concerns have been raised by the Bar Council and the Attorney General has made it clear that he will be examining its concerns very carefully. He doesn't however accept that the existing arrangements are discriminatory in any way.”