New lawyers' leader will ban political correctness oveyr 2

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

The Law Society faces turmoil after solicitors chose an outsider pledged to slash costs and abolish political correctness to lead their profession.

Martin Mears, 55, of Norfolk said after his election last night that he would cut the annual pounds 50m budget of the solicitors' professional body by 10 per cent. He has been an outspoken critic of anti-discrimination policies adopted by the profession and said another priority would be to block the proposed appointment of an equality officer at the Law Society.

In a 36 per cent turnout, Mr Mears comfortably defeated the Law Society's official candidate Henry Hodge, 51, the husband of the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, in the first contested election for the presidency since 1954. Since then the leader has been chosen from inside the Society's leadership by "Buggins' Turn". Mr Mears polled 11,550 votes, Mr Hodge got 8,254 and a third candidate, Eileen Pembridge, also 51, received 3, 515 votes.

The society was already in disarray over the contest because its first official presidential candidate dropped out in April after Ms Pembridge "outed" him in public for having been involved in complaints that he had allegedly sexually harassed female Law Society staff.

Mr Mears, who has accused the Law Society of being a bureaucracy which ignores the wishes of the ordinary solicitor, said after the ballot result: "The profession has been badly led for five years. It has looked to the Law Society for leadership. The perception has been that that leadership has not been forthcoming, that the officers of the Law Society are remote from the concerns of ordinary solicitors."

It was too late to cut the current year's budget but the steady rise in costs from pounds 6.2m in 1984 to pounds 51m next year had to be stopped, he said. He also plans to reform the complaints system.

`Part Ross Perot', page 2