The bar

Bar Council fights Govt to protect independence

The Bar Council last week (, 19 February) launched a massive offensive against the Legal Services Bill, attacking it for placing “too much power in the hands of the Government”.

The news came after Sir David Clementi stunned the legal profession by backing the Government on the two most contentious aspects of the ongoing reform of legal services (, 7 February).

Clementi supported the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer’s view that a secretary of state should appoint the head of the Legal Services Board (LSB).

The Bar Council believes this is a threat to the bar’s independence. It has resulted in the Bar Council, which represents 14,000 barristers in England and Wales, beginning an aggressive lobbying campaign with a round of face-to-face meetings to press home its case. This is in addition to 200 letters already written to peers.

Clementi also supported Lord Falconer’s view that the legal profession should foot the bill to set up the board as well as the Office for Legal Complaints.

Chair of the Bar Council Geoffrey Vos QC says the appointment of the chairman and members of the LSB should be made by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice – those who are lawyers first, not politicians.

“The provisions relating to appointments to the new Legal Services Board will weaken the perceived independence of the legal profession by placing too much power in the hands of the Government,” says Vos.

Bar consultation slates Carter’s legal aid review
Clementi was not the only one to get lambasted by the Bar Council recently.

Lord Carter of Coles’ review into legal aid reforms has come under attack after the council consulted on the proposals for handling fee-sharing.

The consultation, which has just closed, came as more than 50 Labour backbenchers revolted against the Government’s plans by signing up to an early-day motion pressing Lord Falconer to rethink proposals on legal aid (, 24 January).

The consultation hopes there will be viable alternatives to the fee payment protocol that has arisen in the wake of the Carter review.

Tim Dutton QC, vice chairman of the Bar Council, says any publicly funded barrister needs to be governed by a “fair and clear” payment system that ensures the fee is shared among advocates on an equitable basis.

Vulture funds slammed for preying on poor
Campaigning seemed to be the order of the month, with Mr Justice Andrew Smith delivering a scathing attack on vulture funds, which he says prey on developing countries (, 15 February).

The judgment came as fears continue to increase over whether vulture funds hold up or undermine debt restructuring efforts.

Tony Blair’s brother, William Blair QC of 3 Verulam Buildings, with Michael Sullivan of One Essex Court as junior lead instructed by Janet Legrand, a partner at DLA Piper, won the moral highground in Zambia’s fight over its Third World debt.

Investment funds company Donegal International brought proceedings in the UK Commercial Court to enforce a claim again the Republic of Zambia for $55m (£28.23m) in respect of a Zambian debt bought by Donegal from Romania eight years ago for just $3.2m (£1.64m).

Key payment terms that Donegal were relying on were struck out, reducing drastically Zambia’s liability.

It was also found that Donegal’s injunction over Zambia’s assets should be discharged because of the misleading nature of the evidence with which it was secured.

Smith J said: “The proceedings arouse strong feelings. Zambia is a poor country and sees itself as being vulnerable to vulture funds.

“I’m concerned, of course, with the legal questions that are raised by the applications before me and not with questions of morality or humanity.”

Donegal’s solicitor, A&O partner Peter Watson, instructed Anthony Trace QC with Benjamin John as junior lead, both of Maitland Chambers.

39 Essex St blows holes in Govt’s nuclear strategy
Meanwhile, the morals and ethics theme continued as Greenpeace, with the help of 39 Essex Street, blasted the Government’s nuclear programme this month (, 15 February).

The Government is going back to the drawing board over its proposals to build additional nuclear power plants after the High Court ruled in favour of Greenpeace, saying the programme was “seriously flawed”. Nigel Pleming QC of 39 Essex Street and Kassie Smith of Monckton Chambers advised Greenpeace, instructed by environmental boutique Harrison Bryant.

The submissions centred on the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) 2003 promise that a full public consultation would be carried out before declaring any policy position on building more nuclear power plants.

The High Court ruled that Greenpeace had a legitimate expectation that had been frustrated, resulting in the ruling that the DTI’s support of the newbuilds is unlawful.

Mr Justice Sullivan held that the consultation exercise had been very seriously flawed, offering no real proposals with insufficient information to enable an intelligent response.

St Philips pupils win guaranteed tenancies
On a lighter note, St Philips has started a campaign of its own, becoming the first major set to guarantee tenancies for its pupils (The Lawyer, 12 February).

The Birmingham-based set’s decision comes after the number of tenancies in the UK last year plummeted to just 278 – a drop of almost 40 per cent on the previous year.

The potential pupils will be quizzed by a three-person panel and then treated to a slap-up lunch, after which they will be told whether they have made the cut.

A minimum of four pupils will be taken on from a shortlist of candidates, who will be vetted through auditions.

Jonathan Fox, St Philips chief executive, says that, when taking on pupils, the top 10 set looks only for candidates that will “make it”.