The North Eastern Circuit, the largest in the country, has barred employed barristers from full membership following a vote last Thursday
This move goes against the notion of the 'one bar' espoused by the Bar Council, which last year threatened to expel the circuit from its membership if it refused to allow employed barristers proper access to its ranks.
Employed barristers will only be entitled to associate membership, denying them voting rights; access to the circuit's Grand Court meetings; the privilege of dining at the circuit's mess; and being elected to a senior position. The only benefit allowed to them is access to the circuit's life insurance scheme and its training programme.
Recently elected circuit head Peter Collier QC said that granting employed barristers equal status to independent barristers would result in conflicts of interest - an example of this being that circuit meetings are used to discuss fees between the CPS, which has employed barristers, and the independent Bar.
Patrick Walker, an employed barrister at Hammonds, said: "The term membership has been robbed of any real meaning at all. The challenge is to see that those who discriminate against the employed Bar do not retain their powers on the Bar Council. The North Eastern Circuit is no longer representative of barristers on the circuit."
The South Eastern Circuit, European Circuit and the Commercial Bar Association have granted employed barristers full membership.
A Bar Council spokesman said: "The Bar Council would be very concerned by any measures that militate against the interests of a unified and strongly collegiate profession."