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Attorney General John Morris QC, who is fighting a sex discrimination claim over the appointment of civil counsel, has announced a major shake-up of the appointment system.

Under the changes, announced last week, all future appointments of government civil counsel will be advertised and monitored to ensure fair representation of women and ethnic minorities.

Other reforms, recommended by a working party set up by Morris in February, include making appointments for only a fixed period and the establishment of formal panels – three in London, representing different levels of seniority, and one provincial panel.

If government departments wish to use a barrister not on a panel they must first consult the Law Officers.

Morris announced the working party after Josephine Hayes, then chair of the Association of Women Barristers, launched an action against him prompted by the appointment of Philip Sales, a barrister at Lord Irvine's old chambers 11 King's Bench Walk, as “Treasury Devil”.

Morris said the new system was “totally transparent”.