Rude briefs shunned by polite Society

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Solicitors who are rude to each other are to be penalised under new rules being drawn up by the Law Society.

Solicitors who are rude to each other are to be penalised under new rules being drawn up by the Law Society.

The move follows a series of embarrassing rows and often acrimonious contests for the leadership of the profession's 80,000 solicitors. These came to a head earlier this year when the Vice President, Kamlesh Bahl, was suspended after staff accused her of bullying.

The Law Society of England and Wales is now determined to clean up its image by outlawing mud slinging and political infighting.

A formal code of conduct, approved by the society's council last week, will call for debate within the Law Society to be carried out on a "courteous footing" without recourse to "personalities or point scoring".

It will also make clear that while members of the Law Society may have strong views they must recognise there is often "no right answer".

Debates in the council chamber are often heated and can be characterised by bad temper. Last year proposals to give gay couples the same cohabiting rights as heterosexuals resulted in one member describing homosexuality as "disgusting depravity".

Trevor Murray, a solicitor, told a meeting of the Law Society council that he objected togays getting the same cohabiting rights as heterosexuals: "Why should people who have been DNA programmed to procreate and reproduce in the normal way be put on the same level as those who engage in self-indulgent acts of such disgusting depravity," he said. And in last year's elections for the president of the Law Society the eventual winner, Robert Sayer, described one opponent as a "complete pillock" and another as a "dog turd".

The new rules will discourage this kind of colourful language as well as "knocking copy" used to disparage and undermine opponents. After the code has been finalised the Law Society will use it to introduce new rules for the suspension of council members.

In a Law Society document recommending the changes, policy officers say the code would "underpin the moral legitimacy of the council in the eyes of not only the profession but also external stake holders". They add, significantly, "Perceptions are important".

Senior members of the society are aware that the profession's reputation is likely to be further damaged when Ms Bahl begins her claim for race and sex discrimination against the council and the Law Society at the end of the month.