Time is ripe for constructive debate
24 October 1995
I look forward to discussing the timetabled programme for the review of the Law Society's attitude and organisation, requested by the council in September;
to hearing who has been elected to the working party which will review the society's activities, as approved by the council in September;
most of all, to finding out if the president is prepared to build bridges with the council, which I believe is ready to build bridges with him.
In the article I wrote for The Lawyer about the September council meeting ('Seizing the impetus for reform' 3 October) I said: "Now the harsh words of the hustings are behind us, everyone wants to concentrate on doing what is best for the profession". So I thought.
But it seems the president thought otherwise. His address to the national conference suggested he had put the last election campaign behind him only to embark on the next.
I also said: "The council recognised that the new president has a democratic mandate, and will consider his ideas with open minds."
And I meant it. So it came as something of a slap in the face to the council when the president said: "Others have very politely said that they will look at each of my manifesto proposals (those so recently approved by the profession) with an open mind.
"In some cases, I suspect, the intention is to examine each proposal impartially and then reject each proposal impartially...the profession will have the chance to take its revenge."
The profession expects its president and council to work together - settling honest differences of opinion by constructive debate.
I believe that the council is willing to work with the president. But, as I have told the president, his conference address implies that he is not willing to work with the council. It gives the impression that he wants confrontation, so he can claim sole credit for any successes and allocate the council sole blame for any failures.
Meanwhile, there has been some wild and inaccurate talk about the discussions I have been having with various council members about reform.
There is no secret. In April, before the election, I wrote the first draft of the paper which went before the council in September.
I knew that other council members shared my concerns and my desire for reform and I invited some of them to meet me informally to discuss the draft paper.
From this emerged the reform resolutions which were placed openly before the council in September - and which the president accepted.
I have told the president I will do all I can to build bridges between the council and him. He has a programme of reform he would like to achieve.
But he has no monopoly on the desire for reform. I have a reform programme too - which has been adopted by both president and council.
My job is to represent the constituents who elected me. I am neither for the president nor against him. I will judge his proposed policies on how I think they affect the interests of the profession as a whole, and my constituents in particular.
If I think he is right, I will not be too proud to say so. If I think he is wrong, I will not be cowed by threats.
At its September meeting the council committed itself to reform. I believe the council is ready and willing to work with the president.
The October meeting may indicate whether the president is prepared to work with the council, or instead if he expects to dictate to the council.
The profession expects leadership from the president and the council. Let us give its members constructive debate, not destructive confrontation. Let us give them openness, but not selective leaks. Let us have democracy, but not an elective dictatorship.
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