Bar rethinks private pupils

May 5, 1995

The Bar was thrown into fresh controversy over equal training opportunities this week when professional standards watchdogs were asked to consider complaints about private tuition arranged by Cherie Booth QC, wife of the Labour leader, Tony Blair.

Complaints from the rightwing Freedom Association about Ms Booth's granting of a six-month private pupillage to the son of a family friend have been referred to the Bar's professional standards committee.

The case has embarrassed the Bar Council, which clashed with the Inns of Court in November last year over their refusal to adopt its equal opportunities code.

Council guidelines on selection were introduced to ensure that chambers chose candidates for training on the basis of their abilities rather than their contacts.

They were also meant to give "disadvantaged" students, such as those from ethnic minority groups, a better chance of finding increasingly scarce pupillages.

The Freedom Association argued that Ms Booth had arranged private tuition in a manner which was "at variance" with the Bar's guidelines and her own chambers' policy.

Though the Bar's professional conduct committee concluded there was no evidence of professional misconduct on the part of Ms Booth, it called on the professional standards committee to "consider whether 'private' pupillages should be outlawed".

A Bar Council spokeswoman said the equal opportunities committee and Inns of Court, are considering a re-draft of their own equal opportunities guidelines. "The Bar's committee will be involved in discussions with the Inns, although at this stage it is difficult to say what steps will be taken," she said.

Norris McWhirter, Freedom Association chairman, said: "We are pleased that the Bar Council is now moving towards an openly competitive Bar where 'who you know' no longer gives a career advantage to the socially privileged."

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