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The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg
"Solicitors have given up the chance for its first young, female Asian president"
 real 28k

Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 05:11 GMT
Kamlesh Bahl: A lightning rod for change

The row is proving a major embarrassment to the Law Society
Kamlesh Bahl was expected to become the first Asian and first woman president of the Law Society in July.

That was before the 43-year-old was accused of bullying by five members of staff, complaints which were upheld in a damning report by the former law lord, Lord Griffiths.

He concluded that she humiliated and demeaned staff and created an "atmosphere of fear and confusion".

She had resorted to "bullying tactics" and "usurped" the role of the society's chief executive and treated staff "without due consideration".

Yet Ms Bahl is fighting back.

Enlisting the counsel of the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth QC, she has launched a legal claim of her own claiming sex and race discrimination by her employer.

Ms Bahl is the former chairman of the society's commerce and industry group and was chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission before becoming a Law Society elected office-holder.

She has been described as "a lightning rod for change", testimony to the fact that she has not been afraid to put a few noses out of joint in the society.

She believes she is the victim of a "witchhunt" because "my face did not fit within the Law Society, given my background in industry as against private practise and my ethnicity and gender".

'Left to fester'

Ms Bahl says she was never given the opportunity to deal with the complaints informally and that the heavy handed way they were dealt with exposed the society to "ridicule and loss of confidence".

She has also condemned the cost of the 500,000 inquiry and warned she had not received the fair hearing she was entitled to under Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The first complaint had been filed in September 1998, but instead of bringing it to her attention it was "left to fester" for more than a year.

Ms Bahl says her behaviour has to be seen in the context of the job she had been brought in to do, namely to drive through radical changes to the way the society was run.

She admits she might have asked too much of some staff, but argues she was working to tight deadlines and under extreme internal and external pressure.

Ms Bahl also complains no action had been taken over the complaint she lodged against the president of the society, Robert Sayer.

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