Mears' speech sparks uproar at conference

Leading Law Society figures have accused Martin Mears of hijacking the annual solicitors conference to pedal his own political agenda.

The charge follows Mears' tirade against the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality in his key note address to the conference last Friday.

His suggestion that both bodies may have outlived their “usefulness” left EOC chair Kamlish Bahl visibly shocked.

She described his claims that the discrimination industry had hijacked some tribunals as “outrageous and untrue”.

Although some rank and file members supported Mears' speech several Law Society Council members said Mears had abused his position to promote his own political agenda.

John Appleby said his comments were “an appalling abuse of his position”. Law Society Council member Eileen Pembridge said Mears was guilty of “the most appalling gaffes from a position of ignorance”. Alf Winters, president of the South London Law Society described the comments as “pre-historic”.

Mears said he was against discrimination but wanted to prevent abuse of the system.

The media furore over his claims threatened to overshadow a generally well-received speech full of fighting talk against government reform plans.

He said the Lord Chancellor's proposed legal aid reform would produce lawyers offering “a cut-price bargain deal”.

The president, however, was unable to resist the chance to deliver a blistering attack against the Law Society Council. He said he would not allow the council to reject his policies and called on delegates to challenge sitting members who opposed him at next summer's Law Society elections.

Vice-president Robert Sayer said the honeymoon period between the president and council was over. “The scales fell from our eyes at the September council meeting,” Sayer said.

He added his and Mears' support to the embryonic reform party set up by former Sole Practitioners Group chair Arnold Rosen.

Law Society secretary general John Hayes called for unity. He said if Mears, the council and the administration worked together to get the right answers “rather than assuming we have the answers already, then we'll have no problem”.