Bar working party opts for greater democracy

THE BAR Council looks set to give up its constitutional independence from the profession following a democracy working party's conclusion that it should obey the results of national ballots of barristers.

The working party, chaired by treasurer Michael Blair, also concluded that Bar Council proposals to significantly change its constitution or code of conduct must be approved at an AGM.

But it has decided against following the Law Society's example of opening out the election of office holders to the entire profession. The Bar Council itself elects the chair, vice-chair and treasurer.

Blair reported the findings of the working party, which was set up last year, at a Bar Council meeting earlier this month. At it he was told to draw up the constitutional amendments needed to enact the changes.

When the current Bar Council chair, David Penry-Davey QC, took up his post at the beginning of the year, he identified the working party as one of the key initiatives of the year.

A questionnaire sent out to the profession found it divided on whether the entire Bar should vote in office holders, but there was widespread support for moves to make the Bar Council more accountable.

Last year, Michael Jefferis, of 11 New Square, led a threatened AGM rebellion over the Bar Council's lack of accountability. It was only quelled by the promise to establish a working party, which he was invited to join.

Jefferis said he was personally in favour of profession-wide elections for the post of Bar Council chair, but accepted that the questionnaire had shown there was no mandate for such a move. “When you preach democracy, you have to accept the views of the profession,” he said.