Equal rights boss enters Law Soc race

The chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), Kamlesh Bahl, is to stand for the deputy vice-presidency of the Law Society, putting her on course to become the first woman president in its 166-year history.

Bahl, who has confirmed her candidacy surprisingly early, will stand with vice-president Michael Mathews and deputy vice-president Robert Sayer when the elections are held next summer.

If her progress through the presidential ranks is unhindered by competitors, Bahl will become the Law Society's first woman , and first ethnic minority , president in 2000.

Behind-the-scenes lobbying at the Solicitors, Annual Conference in Cardiff two weeks ago saw Bahl decide to join the Mathews/Sayer ticket after receiving widespread support from fellow councillors.

But some council members were surprised that she had confirmed her candidacy so soon after a bitterly-contested election. ,It,s a bit early isn,t it?, was one comment.

Sayer said it was important to get her candidacy ,out in the open, to stop ,wheeling and dealing, as other potential candidates jockeyed for position.

Bahl added that she had been unhappy about the backroom politics of the last election when Martin Mears only decided to stand at the last minute after Sayer changed sides.

A council member for seven years and well-respected and liked by her fellow councillors, staff and certain elements of the media (Bahl was used as a role model for The Archers, lawyer character Usha Gupta in 1991), her candidature could also force any councillors considering challenging Mathews, presidency next year to re-think.

Council member Eileen Pembridge said she was glad Bahl was standing but it was far too early to say whether she would repeat her own 1995 presidential campaign.

Bahl was re-appointed EOC chair in 1994 by the then Conservative employment minister David Hunt, who described her as ,one of Britain,s leading legal figures,, and she is seen as being more right-wing that her predecessors.

Her first decision on taking the post four years ago was to move away from talking about ,women,s equality, to equality of both sexes and she criticised a road rescue organisation for giving priority to lone women.

Hunt said Bahl would not play on the fact she was a woman to win support.

Said Bahl: ,I never go in on the women,s ticket but I go into this election, I believe, because there is a body of experience and expertise that I have.,

Bahl declined offers to be Sayer_s running mate in 1995 because of her EOC commitments but she is standing down as chair of the commission in July 1999.