Bar gears up for Labour govt

Richard Clayton reports

Barristers are planning to set an urgent agenda for criminal justice reform at this month's annual Bar conference in anticipation of next year's general election.

The conference, on 28 September, features the most substantial criminal programme for some years and boasts the Shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, as its keynote speaker.

Cherie Booth QC, wife of Labour leader Tony Blair, is vice-chair of the conference's organising board.

With over three weeks before the conference begins, the Bar Council reports that more than 300 delegates have registered, already topping last year's attendance level.

A Bar Council spokesman attributed this to widespread concern at "the juggernaut nature of the reform of criminal justice masterminded by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard".

He added: "The idea is to produce a series of pointers for whichever party forms the new government."

The spokesman declined to say whether the Bar would favour a Labour victory.

This year's conference chair, Stephen Hockman QC, said recently: "We are particularly pleased to be hearing from the Shadow Lord Chancellor, who may play a central role in a Labour administration, if one is elected."

Another contentious issue on which the Bar will try to steer future government policy is that of multi-disciplinary partnerships.

Newcastle barrister and Bar Council member Neil Addison said: "The Bar Council is hoping to change the Labour Party's mind about ending restrictive practices.

"Lord Irvine appears still to be committed to MDPs and he is very close to the Blairs."

Lord Irvine was away and unavailable for comment.