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7 January 1997
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Two of the main players in the war of words over an alleged "dirty tricks" campaign planned for this year's Law Society presidential election put forward their side of the story. Many a word is said in jest, but sometimes it reveals true intentions, says Martin Mears.
During this election campaign I have concentrated on issues. My opponents, on the other hand, have stressed the importance of "personalities". It was, we were told, Martin Mears who was dragging the profession's reputation down. Last year, also, the establishment's election slogan was "Restoring Respect". They have consistently sought to occupy the moral high-ground and set themselves up as the gentlemanly guardians of the professional flame.
Can it be true that the guardians of the flame have been discovered to be in a shady conspiracy? This is what emerges from the "strictly private and confidential" document made public last week. The document, dated 3 February 1997, is a minute taken by arch-Law Society Council insider Simon Baker. It purports to record the campaign strategy of the establishment candidates, Messrs Sycamore and Mathews.
I quote from it verbatim:
"There are now only three more council meetings before the election. It was agreed that these had to be managed more effectively so as to control the amount of debate about bad news issues."
"Careful consideration should be given to the possibility of a formal rebuke being administrated from the chair to Sayer in the open part of the March meeting for breaching confidentiality...". (Yes, this is the same Robert Sayer who is now part of the establishment presidential team.)
"Policy committee business should be scrutinised for its impact on the election."
"It was acknowledged that S Baker's suggestion that enquiry agents should be engaged to gather information on Mears/ Sayer/Keating was controversial. It would be disastrous if any such initiative was discovered."
What do the participants in the meeting have to say for themselves?
Mr Sycamore says: "A number of ideas were put forward... most were dismissed or not acted upon. This was a fairly subjective note emanating from Simon Baker. I rejected out of hand the suggestion to engage enquiry agents."
But according to the "note", it was agreed to manipulate council meetings and agendas. The suggestion to employ enquiry agents was not dismissed out of hand. It was deferred for further discussion.
But perhaps we should accept Mr Sycamore's word and assume that the note represented only the private maunderings of Mr Baker. In that case, did Mr Sycamore write an indignant letter of repudiation to Mr Baker? If he did, the letter has yet to be produced.
Mr Baker's own defence appeared in last week's Law Society Gazette. He said: "The note has no official status and did not receive the approval of any person who participated in the discussion to which it refers." But hang on. It is Mr Baker's own minute we are talking about. is he saying that because no one officially approved it, it is to be regarded as an unreliable account?
I have tried to obtain Mr Sycamore's detailed comments on the meaning and implications of the minute. He refuses to respond.
But never mind - there was one person who was prepared to comment. Last week's gazette quotes the Law Society president Tony Girling as rebuking his associates for "showing naivety" in having their conversation minuted. And these are the high-minded people who set themselves up to "restore respect" for a learned profession.
Martin Mears is a former president of the Law Society and is standing against Philip Syc-amore in this year's elections.