Bar conducts democracy shake-up

A BAR working party on democracy holds its first meeting this week amid rumblings of discontent among some barristers who accuse the ruling council of being unaccountable to its electorate.

The working party, headed by treasurer Michael Blair, follows the Bar AGM in June when some members called for the meeting's motions to be made binding on the council.

The Bar Council came under fire for being unaccountable and distant from the profession in a debate which echoed the assault on the Law Society establishment by Martin Mears.

A Bar spokesman says the working party will conduct a “top to bottom” review of the council and committee structure to ensure all shades of opinion are drawn into policy making.

In the latest edition of Counsel magazine, Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith says the participation of 230 barristers on the council and its committees means “the needs and aspirations of real practising members of the Bar” are reflected in its policies.

But the magazine also carries an article by barrister Peter Castle, of 11 New Square, which is sharply critical of the Bar Council's ability to ignore AGM resolutions if it wishes.

“It would be more suitable for a proper relationship between the Bar and its council if resolutions for an AGM were not required to commence with the grovel: 'This meeting invites the Bar Council to examine'. We created the creature and it is our responsibility. We should control it,” he writes.

Commenting on the article, Castle compares the dissatisfaction of ordinary solicitors with the Law Society to a “groundswell” of opinion that the Bar Council is out of touch with ordinary barristers..

Michael Jefferis, also of 11 New Square, was invited on to the working party after he seconded a motion at the AGM calling for its decisions to be made binding on the council.

He says the recent Law Society elections and elevation of Martin Mears to the presidency could prove “a breath of fresh air” for solicitors.