Equal before the Law Society?

Martin Mears is making enemies with his views on women and 'political correctness'. By Fiona Bawdon

The Law Society's president, Martin Mears, is a self-appointed scourge of "the viper of political correctness". When he addressed a conference of 300 women lawyers he was, he said, conscious of entering the "lionesses' den". In the event, however, he was bitten not by a marauding female, but by an apparently avuncular and docile-looking lion.

David Penry-Davey QC, chairman of the Bar, departed from his set text publicly to rebuke Mr Mears over a speech in which he had suggested that political correctness is rampant in the legal profession. Mr Mears had claimed that, far from women being discriminated against, it was the men who need protection from the "zealots" and "heresy-hunters" seeking "raw material for their whinge factories". Mr Mears said: "It is a nonsense and a fiction to assert that there is any kind of prejudice against women."

But Mr Penry-Davey - not previously known as a militant feminist - did not recognise this view of the legal profession: "We do not think that the major problems are solved. Perhaps we are nearer the beginning of the process than the end." For the gentlemanly world of the law, this was strong stuff, indeed.

Mr Penry-Davey added that the Bar would not be deflected from taking discrimination seriously by accusations of political correctness. "I have spent 30 years at the Bar. Those who know me would not easily recognise any description of me as a trendy lefty or politically correct. Martin, I very profoundly believe you are wrong," Mr Penry-Davey said to applause from delegates

Mr Mears, who was not given an opportunity to respond publicly, seemed undaunted afterwards, branding his critics "the enemy" and adding that he hadn't really been expecting a standing ovation.

This was the second time the two sides of the legal profession - solicitors and barristers - have clashed publicly over equal opportunities. Earlier, Mr Mears had written a newspaper article ridiculing barristers' new anti- discrimination code as "ultra-political correctness" and wondering whether the Bar had "taken leave of its senses". (The then Bar chairman, Peter Goldsmith QC, responded with a none-too-subtle suggestion that Mr Mears might do well to keep his nose out of matters which, as a solicitor, were nothing to do with him.)

Since becoming Law Society president last year - in the first contested election in 40 years - Mr Mears has repeatedly used the public platform this gives him to air a personal philosophy which even supporters have described as "unusual". During his speech last weekend to the second Woman Lawyer conference, organised under the aegis of the Bar and the Law Society, he revisited many of his pet themes.

He condemned the "discrimination industry" with its "staff, premises, middle management, senior management, career structure, corporate identities and conventions"; rubbished the concept of indirect discrimination ("discrimination can now be found to exist regardless of the intention or goodwill of the alleged discriminator"); veered off into attacking women in the armed forces, and bemoaned the "scandal" of the 14-year-old schoolgirl who won damages after she was turned down for a paper round.

"The newsagent admitted his grave offence and gave as his reason for employing only boys that: 'We were only trying to protect her. It is dark in the mornings and there are all sorts of rapists and nutters out there'," said Mr Mears.

It was left to Kamlesh Bahl, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and a fellow member of the solicitors' professional ruling body, to point out that 14-year-old boys are just as vulnerable to "rapists and nutters" as 14-year-old girls. If there is a question over safety, children of both sexes should be equally protected, she said.

Ms Bahl added that Mr Mears' speech had provided a timely "example of certain attitudes that definitely need changing. It is just unfortunate that these attitudes are at the head of our legal profession."

However, Mr Mears' view that men can be victims of discrimination, too, did elicit support from one perhaps unlikely quarter. Helena Kennedy QC - who would surely qualify as one of the "bitter and dangerous enemies in predictable places" that Mr Mears claims are ranged against him - told of a young male would-be barrister applying unsuccessfully for pupillage. His CV was returned with a polite letter saying thanks, but no thanks. However, a scribbled note had inadvertently been left attached to the document, bearing the legend: "Would we really have someone in chambers with a name like Darren?"

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Data Engineer

£35000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Data Engineer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence