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Just 7 per cent of members of the North Eastern Circuit voted on the future of its employed barrister members following an amendment to earlier plans to ban them from membership.
The new resolution proposed to allow employed barristers to become 'associate members' of the circuit. This is a significant sea change from the original proposal - altered last week - which stated that all applicants for North Eastern circuit membership of the Bar of England and Wales must be in private practice. Employed barristers expressed surprise that circuit members voted against defining associate membership before voting on the resolution. The only definition of associate membership provided by the circuit in the resolution is that they "benefit from circuit pupillage training, continuing education programmes, welfare provisions and any other compatible activities". Employed barrister Patrick Walker, head of advocacy at Hammond Suddards Edge, who used to practice as an independent barrister, described the new resolution and the vote as "expulsion by the back door". Just 44 out of 530 members voted last Wednesday. He said: "It offers little more than pupillage training and obligations to pay money to the circuit. Associate membership is meaningless without spelling out the activities. "We don't know if we can vote, particularly in Grand Court meetings, dine with circuit members and whether members of the Bar Council and judiciary are invited. It was also suggested to me at the vote meeting that my life cover policy organised by the circuit, which I've been paying into since I started at the circuit, will exclude me as an associate member." It is also alleged that despite the circuit's constitution stating that an amendment to the constitution needs the support of two-thirds of members present, only 61 per cent voted in favour of the resolution. "I'll put my point in writing to the leader of the circuit [Malcolm Swift QC] as I believe the constitution has failed," said Walker. Employed barristers who are members of the circuit claim they were told two weeks ago that they will retain full membership. However, they are disappointed with Section C of the resolution, which states that they will now become associate members. "We were assured it wouldn't be retrospective," said one employed barrister.