Iron fist in a velvet glove to fight the Bar's corner

David Penry-Davey takes a positive view of people and seeks to avoid confrontation. But don't mistake this for weakness. Stephen Ward met the barristers' champion

David Penry-Davey is a tall man, avuncular in manner; three of his four main leisure interests are active - golf (he was once Bar champion) cycling and fell walking - but at 53 he looks as though he does them all now at a leisurely pace. For the next 12 months he is likely to do them all less frequently; Bar chairmen are notoriously busy, and he recognises his year in office is a crunch one for the profession, with a series of legal reforms and battles coming to crises.

He is self-confessedly not a politician: he has only been involved in Bar Council business for four years and recognises that many of his "constituents" have enough to do with their jobs and family without extra-curricular Bar Council business. The Bar organises these things without the acrimony of the recent Law Society contest: by contesting the vice-presidency, then promoting him (so far, it's always been a man) the next year. Mr Penry-Davey was elected as vice-chairman ahead of Martin Bowley, a seasoned streetfighter with radical criticisms of the structure of the profession, notably the Inns of Court.

Legal aid reform is potentially the greatest threat to barristers. The Green Paper proposals last year would franchise solicitors' firms, with contracts paying lump sums for a given number of cases. If solicitors are working to a fixed budget, they will be under pressure to use cheap barristers, or even solicitor advocates who may not be good enough. There are ways to audit the quality of work for solicitors, but Mr Penry-Davey asks: "How can you guarantee quality of advocacy? I don't believe there is a way."

He supports the Woolf plans to speed up civil justice in principle, but only if there is enough money to retrain judges and appoint enough new ones as necessary. He disagrees with Michael Huebner, head of the new Court Service, who believes the necessary money for "pump-priming" can be found by juggling existing budgets.

The last quarter of 1995 was dominated by an unprecedented clash between the Government and the judiciary over sentencing and judicial review, which has inevitably sucked the Bar in on the side of the judiciary. Mr Penry-Davey's comments are a classic example of an iron fist in a velvet glove: "I welcome a healthy debate on the limits to judicial review and discretion in sentencing."

He also says he has a positive view of Michael Howard and other politicians. "I believe they listen," he says. He sees Mr Howard's apparent about- turn last week over plans for compulsory identity cards as another example of politicians listening to reason.

But Mr Penry-Davey was less diplomatic behind closed doors when he told the Bar Council in his inaugural speech: "Justice is what matters in the end. We will not stand by and watch short-term expediency take precedence."

In short, Mr Penry-Davey is happy to be non-confrontational on the surface - to make it easy for politicians to back down without losing face. But no one should mistake that for weakness where he believes the judges and lawyers for once have public sympathy.

One challenge for the new Bar chairman, which eluded even his mild-mannered predecessor, Peter Goldsmith, is to maintain cordial terms with the Law Society's populist president, Martin Mears.

"The relations depend on more than the presidents," he says. He recognises the importance of unity. "Though in some areas we are in competition with solicitors, we spend much time working with them and I believe it is in our interests as well as the client's that we work with the Law Society."

Mr Goldsmith finally snapped at the end of last year, when Mr Mears mocked the Bar Council's equality code. Mr Penry-Davey is no less protective of that code: "Advancement and success at the Bar should depend on merit alone," he insists. "As long as there is discrimination and lack of equality, even if it is only in a few cases, we must try to end it."

On the critical factor of social class, which the code doesn't mention, he does not accept that the Bar is elitist. He recalls the Labour MP Chris Mullin quizzing the four-person delegation from the Bar to the Home Affairs Select Committee. None had gone to public schools, and only one to Oxbridge. Despite his double-barrelled name, Mr Penry-Davey is a product of Hastings Grammar School and King's College, London. His father was a Conservative, and a solicitor.

Aside from policy, Bar chairmen have to react to events on behalf of the profession. As a fraud expert, Mr Penry-Davy is well qualified to comment on the Maxwell trial. He believes itshowed the system working. The Serious Fraud Office has a fairly healthy conviction rate overall, he says. You shouldn't see it as a failure if somebody is acquitted: that implies they are guilty, he insists. "The case was clearly presented, and from the length of time they took, the jury apparently considered the evidence carefully." He is a strong supporter of juries: "My experience over many years tells me that generally they've got it right and I can't see the prospect of any alternative improving on that record.

There are internal as well as external politics for him to consider, too: conservative, but not reactionary, he will continue Mr Goldsmith's modernising and not universally popular path. He considers the Bar's new complaints procedure as essential if the body is to keep its role as regulator as well as trade union for the profession. He believes strongly in advocacy training in first three years of practice: "I saw a course of 40 people go on video every day. Of course, you learn by experience, but they all improved dramatically."

Befitting a barristers' leader, his progressive egalitarianism and logic break down over the question of wigs. "They are a symbol of formality and good behaviour, not pomp," he says. They are popular with the public. He wants barristers to keep them. "People recognise who we are and what we do by the wigs." But he doesn't want solicitor advocates to wear them even though they carry out the same role. Won't people see that as small- minded? "I'm sure the public doesn't see it like that," he insists.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone