The Bar Council is requesting an amendment to the Access to Justice Bill, making subscriptions to the body compulsory.
Raising membership from 90 to 100 per cent will have obvious economic advantages and will strengthen the institution generally, says the Bar.
However, it faces stiff opposition, particularly from the employed and non-practising Bar, of whom there are more than 9,000 members.
Chairwoman of the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance & Industry (Bacfi), Susan Ward, says: “Bacfi doesn't have a problem with compulsory subscription providing the Bar Council stops using subscription income to fund campaigns to denigrate employed and non-practising barristers and start looking after our interests.”
Ward says that in the council's submissions to the Lord Chancellor on rights of audience, employed barristers were described as “lacking an independent and objective approach and liable to create problems in the administration of justice”.
A Bar Council spokesperson says: “We are seeking parity with solicitors as outlined in the Solicitors' Act 1990 and nothing more.”
The council's code of conduct already lists subscription as “compulsory” but when a barrister took issue with the rule it was deemed to be unenforceable because the body provides both regulatory and trade union functions.
Neil Addison, ex-Crown Prosecutor and former Bar Council member, has a more radical proposal. He asks whether the blurring of the distinction between the professions that is proposed by the Access to Justice Bill requires the establishment of a separate regulatory body to oversee barristers, solicitors and legal executives.
This would free the Law Society and Bar Council to provide their other functions more efficiently, he says. “Why is it that people don't want to pay? It's not just a question of money,” he says.