Low-key Bar Council conference aims to avoid the headlines

This year the Bar Council has decided to play safe and concentrate on the Human Rights Bill, reports Shaun Pye. The Bar Council was cock-a-hoop last year when newly elected Home Secretary Jack Straw agreed to address its annual conference. The Bar Council's enthusiasm no doubt waned as Straw methodically laid into the profession, blasting some of its members as "fat cats" and promising to cut their earnings from legal aid.

Straw has not been invited to this year's conference at the Whitbread Brewery in London on 3 October.

Members of the government will, of course, be attending, including the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, Attorney General John Morris QC and newly appointed Solicitor General Ross Cranston.

However, responsibility for the keynote address has been thrust into the safer hands of the senior judiciary, specifically the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham.

The theme of this year's conference is the imminent incorporation into British law of the European convention on human rights.

According to the Bar Council, afternoon workshops such as "The Convention and criminal law", "Public law and the human rights bill" and "Human rights and the family" are already attracting intense interest.

One suspects that other developments over the past 12 months – the planned withdrawal of legal aid and extension of conditional fees, extended rights of audience, changes in the ways barristers pay tax – will dominate, particularly the morning's open forum. There are no organised afternoon workshops on these issues.

In fairness the Bar did spend an entire Saturday in June discussing Lord Irvine's reforms.

However, one group – young barristers – gets special attention for the first time in a number of years. The Bar Council says it is holding a "nuts and bolts" session which should provide practical advice for young barristers. One of the speakers is the manager of the law courts branch of the NatWest bank.

Among other workshops there is the expected mix: the specialist, "Judging war crimes: lessons from the former Yugoslavia tribunal"; the technical, "Professional negligence: procedural changes post-Woolf"; the technological, "Tomorrow's barrister: developments today"; and the sexy, "Sporting freedoms: running, jumping, banning and biting". With recent events in football's Premiership, the last workshop could grab a few headlines.

Notable by its absence is anything specifically geared towards clerks. The Institute of Barristers Clerks' own conference in June probably left little more to be said.

Last year's conference was high profile, grabbing the headlines and re-igniting the debate over barristers' fees. Next month's conference looks, on paper, a more sober affair. Many at the Bar will view that as no bad thing.