Deferred call plan is 'discriminatory'

Bar Council plans to defer call to the Bar are under grave threat following legal advice that it would probably be unlawful.

A legal opinion delivered to the Bar Council by Michael Beloff QC said the current proposals to defer call until completion of six months pupillage were likely to cause indirect discrimination without objective justification.

The opinion is also understood to have stated that the proposals might be contrary to UK competition policy as implemented by the Director General of Fair Trading.

The Bar Council wants to introduce deferral of call to ensure that the profession is not flooded by barristers following the validation of other institutions to run the Bar course alongside the Bar School.

It submitted a preliminary application to the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct (Aclec) in April.

It commissioned the opinion from Beloff as “somebody best placed to give an independent view of the law,” a spokesman said.

He added that the Bar Council's view was that the advice was a fair analysis of the situation and a second opinion would not be sought.

“We will be examining the issue in some detail. We will be looking at the nature of the statistics on which the opinion was based and at ways the proposals can be refined or adapted,” he said.

The Association of Women Barristers, which opposes the plans on the grounds that they would discriminate against women and people from ethnic minorities, welcomed the opinion.

Outgoing chair Barbara Hewson said: “In effect, Beloff said the Bar Council could expect legal action. I don't see how it can go forward on this matter now.”

She added that it was ironic that the opinion followed so closely on the launch of the Bar's equality code.

The Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry (Bacfi) would also welcome the abandonment of the proposal.

It argues that the application does not take into account the needs of employed barristers. Its chair, Peter Styles, described the opinion as “seriously adverse” to the Bar Council's application.

“I would be very surprised if the Bar Council pursues its application to Aclec as it stands,” he said.

The Bar Council will discuss the issue on 8 June and is expected to report its position to the Bar's AGM on the same day.