BAR Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC outlined a dual role for the Bar of asserting itself in the debate over changes to the justice system while adapting to the threat of professional competition.

Speaking at the Bar's AGM about proposed changes to the system, he singled out the Lord Chancellor's legal aid Green Paper and Lord Woolf's package on civil justice reform as needing “the most important areas of debate outside our own agenda”.

“We are deeply concerned about both the principles and detail of the legal aid proposals which the Lord Chancellor is putting forward. They are of enormous significance to the future of the system of justice…and of enormous importance to the Bar.”

He announced an open meeting on 4 July to debate the Green Paper and to feed barristers' views into the Bar Council response.

Both Lord Mackay and a Labour Party representative will attend.

On direct access, Goldsmith confirmed that talks had taken place with the Lord Chancellor's Department over Bar proposals for instructions in legal aid cases from the Citizens' Advice Bureau. Sources indicate the LCD is showing strong interest in the proposals.

On education, Goldsmith said the Bar Council would next year take over the regulatory role currently shared with the Inns through the Council of Legal Education.

On the threat of professional competition it was taking “real and concrete action” to “help the Bar compete and thrive”.

Bar treasurer Michael Blair and chief executive Niall Morison warned delegates that extra costs of developments and initiatives were squeezing resources and that the Bar Council's current staff of 44 would need to be expanded.