'Outsider' chosen to head equality commission: Barrie Clement reports on the lawyer appointed to lead the EOC

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The Independent Online
THE Prime Minister has decided to appoint a chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission who is not a member of the 'great and good'.

The Department of Employment yesterday disclosed that Kamlesh Bahl, a 36-year-old lawyer employed by a computer software company, is to take over from Joanna Foster.

She was selected from more than 80 applicants by a panel of government officials and Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State at the Department of Employment. Her appointment also has the personal endorsement of John Major.

Ms Bahl is an 'unknown' whose previous claim to fame is that she was used as the model for a character in The Archers radio programme - a partner in a firm of solicitors.

Ms Bahl, company secretary of the legal services division of Data Logic, will work three days a week at the commission for more than pounds 30,000 a year, continuing at the company as a consultant. She has been given a three-year contract with the possibility of renewal.

While Ms Bahl is not a member of the Establishment, she will almost certainly be seen by feminists as a politically safe appointment - a person who will espouse the principles of 'voluntarism' rather than coercion. Her family is of Asian origin, which will be welcomed by the Commission for Racial Equality.

She will be no radical, but a senior Whitehall official described her as 'independent and potentially very formidable'.

Ms Foster, a former press officer at Conservative Central Office, became disenchanted with the Government towards the end of her stay at the EOC, in particular with Mrs Shephard, whom she hoped would have been a refreshing change from Michael Howard, a hardline Thatcherite.

One of Ms Bahl's principal functions, according to the job description, will be to act as the commission's chief spokeswoman, although yesterday she declined to speak to the media.

Ms Bahl was employed from 1984 to 1987 by Texaco, the oil company, where she was involved in equal opportunities policies and from 1981 to 1984 by British Steel. She was brought up in Southgate, north London, and went on to study law at Birmingham and Dundee universities.

She is a member of the Law Society's council and sits on its race relations committee. She is also a member of key committees at the Lord Chancellor's judicial studies board. Ms Bahl is a member of the Council of Justice and a member of the council of the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts.

Mrs Shephard said Ms Bahl would bring valuable experience in the law and strategic management to her new job. Her selection came after a more 'open' process suggested by the commission. It involved advertisements in the press and extensive interviews. In the past the appointment was made 'behind closed doors'.

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