Law Society ditches equal opportunities committee

As Bahl wins discrimination case, committee is dropped to save cash

The Law Society, which was last week found guilty of sexual and racial discrimination against former vice-president Kamlesh Bahl, intends to abolish its equal opportunities committee.
Last Thursday (5 July), an employment tribunal in Watford found that Bahl was racially and sexually discriminated against by the then president Robert Sayer and former secretary general Jane Betts. Claims of unfair dismissal and victimisation were dismissed.
Marcia Williams, general secretary of the equal opportunities committee, resigned just days before the trial, after the society had made no financial provision for the committee during the coming year. She will not be replaced and her resignation is not connected to the Bahl case.
Law Society chief executive Janet Paraskeva has confirmed that the equal opportunities committee will lose its funding. She says the move is part of a general restructuring of the Law Society, which she has been charged with putting into action.
“None of our committees will have their own cheque books anymore,” said Paraskeva. “When I came into this job nine months ago, the society was facing a considerable deficit. I'm now addressing the deficit by restructuring. Instead of having one committee devoted to the cause, we intend to incorporate equal opportunities into every Law Society group.”
Paraskeva did not confirm how the new arrangement will be funded. There is no intention to put members of the equal opportunities committee into the various groups, meaning that the Law Society will cease to have a watchdog over the area. Paraskeva added that the society is in the process of drawing up a new equal opportunities policy.
According to Eileen Pembridge, the committee's chair, it is the Law Society's management board that wants to abolish the committee, was not a Law Society council decision.
“During the past few months, there has been a drip, drip, drip of comments from Chancery Lane that the committee is to be abolished. We're not disbanding, but ceasing to meet. We're asking for our situation to be resolved by a full council debate,” said Pembridge.
However, Paraskeva confirms that the committee's future will not be put to a council vote. “The council has decided that the day-to-day running of the Law Society should be delegated to the management board,” she said.
The Society of Black Lawyers, which backed Bahl in her action, has hit back. “That the society does not, in retrospect, try to rebuild its equal opportunities committee is an example of its insidious racism and arrogance,” said Raj Joshi, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers. “It has taken 152 years for its terrible equal opportunities record to be highlighted. Now the Law Society is further resisting change by not even consulting its black and Asian council members on the future of the equal opportunities committee set up to help them.”