Bar faces calls for second ballot

THE BAR Council's narrow ballot victory in favour of its complaints scheme could be short-lived, as its opponents consider an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to force another ballot.

The move is being discussed because the ballot included around 4,000 employed barristers, who opponents say would not be seriously affected by the changes.

If the move fails, then application for judicial review appeared to be a final option, said leading opponent Ronald Thwaites QC.

“I don't think the Bar Council ought to be comfortable or complacent, in view of the significant numbers who voted against the scheme. They cannot be seen as a fringe group,” said Thwaites.

The Bar Council gained just over 55 per cent of the vote, with 2,004 voting for the scheme and 1,616 against.

Thwaites wrote to Bar Council chief executive Niall Morison last week asking how votes by employed barristers “affected the ballot result, if at all, and what weight the council is entitled to attach to that”.

If he is not satisfied with the response he will consider calling another EGM. The last one he called last November resulted in a marked defeat for the Bar Council, which triggered the ballot.

A second ballot would be aimed specifically at private practice barristers only, among whom Thwaites and others expect more opposition.

The Bar insisted the new scheme would be equally relevant for employed barristers, but Thwaites said that was “preposterous”.

Thwaites has promised to continue his campaign against the proposed scheme but will wait until after the Bar Council meeting on 27 January, set to discuss its implementation, before choosing his next move.

A Bar spokesman said the ballot had been “the best test of the democratic will of the Bar that we have”.

Chair David Penry-Davey QC said implementation plans would have “regard to the concerns of the minority of members who did not feel able to support the scheme”.

The Bar has already told members that the most contentious aspects of the complaints scheme, involving fines of up to £2,000 to compensate the public for “inadequate professional services”, would safeguard against frivolous complainants.