Cherie slated for working at No 10

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Indy Politics

Cherie Blair was attacked last night by senior lawyers over her use of Downing Street as an extension of her barrister's chambers.

Cherie Blair was attacked last night by senior lawyers over her use of Downing Street as an extension of her barrister's chambers.

The Prime Minister's wife, one of the country's top QCs in employment law and human rights, used their grace and favour flat in 11 Downing Street for business meetings to advise solicitors in the aftermath of the £30m collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

Mrs Blair's allies defended her use of Downing Street for conducting business at home, but the Conservatives - battered by recent opinion polls - seized on the disclosure to attack the Blairs' use of the trappings of power.

"A member of the Prime Minister's family should not be using Number 10 or Number 11 for business purposes. It's as simple as that," said John Redwood, a Tory campaign chief.

"The taxpayer pays for Downing Street as a place to live and work for the Prime Minister in the interests of the country. Cherie Blair should tell her colleagues and clients that she cannot use her home. She ought to be using her chambers."

A Tory attack on Mrs Blair earlier in the summer for supporting human rights legislation in the UK backfired badly on the Conservative leadership. However, her use of Downing Street opened the Blairs to the charge of an abuse of privilege. Like all barristers in private practice, the Prime Minister's wife relies on solicitors for her work. Conferences are normally held at barristers' chambers or the offices of solicitors.

Franklin Sinclair, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said: "You have to ask who is paying for the conference and its administration - the chambers or Number 10? She should use her chambers like everyone else."

Mrs Blair hosted meetings there with solicitors representing 200 legally aided former employees of the collapsed bank BCCI. Since 1997 Mrs Blair, who uses the name Cherie Booth QC in her professional life, has been the lead counsel for employees who are being sued by the liquidators.

Mrs Blair's juggling of family life with her career at the Bar has been a continuing source of controversy, including the attack by a Tory MP who accused her of being a cross between Lady Macbeth and America's First Lady.

A spokesman for her former chambers confirmed that she had hosted meetings with clients and solicitors involved in the BCCI case at Downing Street. He said that it was convenient to meet in a central London location and saved her having to carry "boxes and boxes" of papers to and from chambers.

Jane Hoyal, a barrister friend who studied with Cherie Booth at the London School of Economics, said that she was perfectly entitled to work from home. "She is reducing rather than increasing the level of chambers' expenses. She has done an awful lot of work for charity, and had to travel all over the world with her husband. She should be allowed a little bit of flexibility."