Circulars fly in Bar complaints row

THE BAR Council is waging a battle for the hearts and minds of the Bar over the council's proposed complaints scheme.

Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC is leading a war of circulars, warning barristers of the need to adopt the scheme, already watered down by a Criminal Bar Association amendment which restricts compensation payments to provable financial loss.

“It is now a modest scheme – some would say very modest indeed – but contains strong safeguards to protect barristers against frivolous and unfounded complaints,” he said in a circular.

But chief opponent Ronald Thwaites QC, who led a defeat of the Bar Council in its open meeting on the scheme last month, attacked the scheme as “misguided” and “fudged” in a four-page letter to barristers.

He accused the council of “appeasing” consumer bodies which had demanded the creation of such a scheme.

Around 12,500 barristers, including the employed Bar, are preparing to vote in a postal ballot, due to close on 9 January, which will make or break the scheme.

Goldsmith is attempting to reassure barristers that a proper complaints scheme is “vital to the Bar” in order to underpin its reputation, to compete with solicitor advocates and to head off political pressure for a statutory scheme and thereby preserve self-regulation.

“No-one should be under any illusions about what is at stake here,” said Goldsmith.

Goldsmith's circular warns: “We must avoid a mentality that we have to barricade ourselves in every last ditch to prevent any modernisation of the profession.”

Thwaites attacked the decision to allow the 4,000 employed barristers to vote, arguing they would not be affected by the scheme. Their voting could strengthen calls for a “new Practising Barristers' Association without employed barristers”, he wrote.