North East circuit faces Bar Council expulsion

Circuit heads for showdowns it votes on employed barristers ban; others may follow “one bar”snub

Barristers in the North East could be thrown out of Bar Council membership if the North East circuit presses ahead with a proposition to ban all employed barristers from joining its ranks.

Such a move, which is expected to be debated at the circuit’s next Grand Court in July, may make it difficult for the circuit to maintain its position on the Bar Council.

The proposed amendment to the North East circuit’s constitution states that, from 14 March 2001, all applicants for circuit membership must be members of the Bar of England and Wales in private practice. They must also, as a rule, practise, or hope to practise, in the circuit’s courts.

The unprecedented proposal brings the circuit, headed by the highly respected criminal practitioner Malcom Swift QC, to loggerheads with the position of the Bar Council.

A bar spokesman says: “The Bar Council’s position in respect of employed barristers is clear: we’re one profession, employed and independent practitioners alike.”

Swift QC did not comment, but his circuit’s secretary Simon Reevell, a barrister at 10 Park Square in Leeds, says: “[The “one bar” issue] isn’t something I have a view about. At the moment, there’s no agenda for the next Grand Court in July. If this issue is discussed, then it will be discussed at the Grand Court.”

But minutes from circuit meetings state that the issue will be discussed at the next Grand Court meeting in July.

The reasons for banning employed barristers were outlined at the 9 October meeting, where it was said that a conflict of interest could occur.

Susan Ward, chairwoman of the Employed Barristers Committee of the Bar Council, has written to Swift to find out what the position is. It is understood in his reply that he said existing members will be allowed to remain in the circuit. Bar Council chairman Roy Amlot QC has also raised the matter with Swift.

A senior employed bar member says: “This action by the North East circuit has started a groundswell among other circuits. Historically, circuits are only interesting for those barristers involved in court. But now there are greater rights of audience, and circuits are more attractive for employed barristers. It has also been discussed by the South East circuit.”

South East circuit leader Stephen Hockman QC did not respond to The Lawyer’s calls.