Law Society hit by another 10 bullying claims

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The Independent Online
THE CRISIS at the Law Society deepened yesterday after it emerged that there is evidence of up to 10 more complaints of bullying made against its vice-president, Kamlesh Bahl, and other senior figures.

The society's trade union, the MSF (Manufacturing Science Finance) is looking at new allegations which could form the basis of more official complaints.

Ms Bahl already faces two serious allegations of harassment of Law Society staff which are to be investigated by a "senior, independent person" nominated by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Woolf. A source close to the union said that the fresh complaints could number as many as 10 and name at least one other senior Law Society figure.

The Law Society, which represents 80,000 solicitors, has set up a panel of six council members to "field and filter" any new complaints.

It is understood that its remit is not restricted to claims solely against Ms Bahl and will look at any evidence of complaints made against other staff based at the Chancery Lane headquarters.

The Law Society has also called in the leading human-rights law firm Bindman and Partners to represent the society if the allegations establish liability.

The Law Society is liable for the actions of its employees and its elected officers, which includes Ms Bahl. She strongly denies all allegations.

In a letter written yesterday to all staff, and seen by The Independent, the council acknowledged the existence of more claims.

It said: "The Union, MSF, have emphasised that there may be other complainants who are reluctant to come forward. We are determined to provide a mechanism so that staff can raise concerns or make complaints without fear of repercussion."

The six council members on the inquiry panel said they would treat all allegations in the strictest confidence but set a deadline of 14 January for any new complaints.

Ms Bahl is the former head of the Equal Opportunities Commission. During her time of office she was the subject of similar allegations of staff bullying.

She was on course to become the first woman and first ethnic-minority solicitor to lead the Law Society next year. While her arrival at the Law Society was widely welcomed by women and ethnic-minority lawyers, her drive for change has made her enemies. Senior policy figures at the Law Society have objected to her "domineering" style.

She has also been identified with a high-profile campaign against changes in the legal aid system brought about by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg.

News of more difficulties at the organisation responsible for the regulation and representation of solicitors will be seen as justification for ending the Law Society's dual role. The trouble-dogged Office for the Supervision of Solicitors has been struggling with a crippling backlog of complaints against solicitors.

Lord Irvine has said that he is prepared to use reserve powers in the Access to Justice Act which enable him to restrict the right of the society to collect revenue from its members.