Law Society president admits 'shouting at staff'

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The Independent Online

The crisis at the Law Society deepened yesterday after it emerged that its president had confessed in public to shouting at staff.

Lawyers, led by Cherie Booth QC and acting for Kamlesh Bahl, who resigned from the vice-presidency last week following allegations of bullying, have unearthed a recording of an interview between Robert Sayer, the society's president, and the radio psychiatrist Anthony Clare.

A transcript of the interview, which took place at the solicitors' annual conference in Disneyland, Paris, last year, will be used by Ms Bahl in her claim for sex and race discrimination against the society.

In the interview, Mr Sayer said the only way to get the society to improve was to "shout very loudly". At the time, Mr Sayer was joined on the panel by Ms Bahl, who has also since brought a complaint of bullying against Mr Sayer for being responsible for attempts to force her from the society when the bullying allegations against her first surfaced.

Asked by Mr Clare whether he was naturally a patient man, Mr Sayer replied: "Oh yes, but there is only one to way to get a large organisation to improve and that is to shout very loudly. Shout and shout and shout and demand, and eventually you get where you want in a period of time."

Asked whether he thought this was a good way to get the best out of people, he replied: "...unfortunately you have sometimes got to do that to get things done because you can't be Mr Nice Guy all your life."

After members of the audience had expressed their disapproval of shouting at staff, Mr Sayer said: "When I say 'shout' I'm slightly joking ... now being firm and reasonable is different perhaps to bullying."

Ms Booth, whose joint opinion will form the basis of a statement which Ms Bahl is to send to all solicitors, argued that Mr Sayer's behaviour should also be investigated. She also drew attention to another former vice-president, John Young, who had resigned following allegations of sexual harassment five years ago. She said he had not faced an investigation and this contrasted unfairly with Ms Bahl's treatment.

In her statement, Ms Bahl described the society as a "snoozing bureaucracy ... run by staff with no experience of a solicitors' practice". She added: "It's a vast bureaucracy with 800 staff and an income of £55m but it is out of touch with its membership."

The cost of Ms Bahl's case and the investigation into her behaviour by the retired law lord, Lord Griffiths, is estimated to be now approaching £1m.

The society said yesterday that it was "confident that its treatment of Kamlesh Bahl was lawful at all times". It added that the Griffiths committee had found her guilty of bullying and that comments about Ms Sayer were not relevant to the Griffiths findings.

Cherie Blair, who as a leading employment barrister uses her maiden name Booth, has settled her legal action against the Mail on Sunday following the publication of an article about life in 10 Downing Street based on the experiences of the family's former nanny.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's wife yesterday said that she and Associated Newspapers had agreed to resolve "amicably" her claim against the newspaper group.

Associated Newspapers has given permanent undertakings to the court not to publish or disclose any information obtained directly or indirectly from Ros Mark relating to the period she worked for the Blairs.