Mears attacks Law Soc on air fares

Martin Mears has attacked the Law Society for paying for two former members of staff and one of their spouses to fly out to a five-day conference in Vancouver.

In a question tabled at last Wednesday's Law Society meeting, Mears asked why the society felt it necessary to subsidise the trips to the Commonwealth Law Association (CLA) conference.

He also demanded to know the cost of the total delegation, which consisted of nine staff and society representatives and three of their spouses, and why an objection he made about its make-up had been overruled.

“As soon as I leave the presidency, it is business as usual,” said Mears.

“Half the Law Society was at that conference. There are two points of principle: why was I overruled, and why should the Law Society pay for ex-members of staff to go abroad?”

In the Law Society-funded delegation were president Tony Girling and his wife, secretary general Jane Betts and her husband, and David Keating, chair of the international committee, who paid for his wife to attend with him.

Mears' specific objections were over the decision to pay for the attendance at the conference of Hamish Adamson, former director of the society's international division, and Walter Merricks, then director of professional and legal policy, and his wife.

Merricks, who was on holiday in the US at the time, became the Insurance Ombudsman within days of returning from Vancouver, having announced he would be leaving the Law Society in May.

Mears said he had known about the plan to send Merricks to the conference while president and had made an objection which was overruled.

Responding to Mears' questions, David Keating, chair of the Law Society's international committee, said Adamson's trip was made at the request of the CLA, which wanted to “say farewell” to the man who had been their executive secretary for 14 years.

He said Merricks' trip had been arranged by outgoing secretary general John Hayes, who felt he should travel out as the secretary general's representative at a time when his successor had not been chosen.

The decision to send him was subsequently authorised by acting secretary general Jane Hern with the “subsequent knowledge” of Hayes' eventual successor, Betts.

Keating said exact costs were yet to be determined.

Hayes defended his decision to authorise Adamson's and Merricks' trips. He said Merricks' journey had been arranged at a time when it was unclear who would be officially representing the society at the conference.

He said it would have been “scandalous” if no senior Law Society representatives had turned up while Mears had been “dithering” about whether to go if he was re-elected.

A Law Society spokesman said Merricks had proved invaluable at the conference as an adviser to Betts, who had only just joined the society.