Is democracy 'unthinkable' too

The speed of the president in calling last week's special meeting of the council surprised the staff. His own paper was countered by a paper from the hitherto discreet intelligentsia of Chancery Lane known as the Ginger Group.

Appointed by the secretary general John Hayes, it is established "to think the unthinkable" and it is sufficiently influential to have its paper circulated to all council members for last week's meeting. But, entitled Simply the Best, the paper will only serve to increase fears that the staff will undermine any attempt by the membership to bring democracy to Chancery Lane.

The contract that the present secretary general has held for the last nine years, it is said, enables him to decide who is hired and who is fired. This despite what is laid down in the Charter of 1845, Article 11. The council of 1986, when appointing him were bold enough not to have any discussion in council but behind closed doors without minutes.

His terminal pension rights are generous. A High Court judge serves 20 years and gets half terminal salary. The Secretary General serves 10 years and gets 40 per cent of his terminal benefits. As he presently is paid £120,000 plus a flat, driver, medical insurance and first class travel everywhere around the world he will soon look forward to over £1,000 per week for life, index linked.

At the age of 52, he will have little difficulty in finding another position, itself pensionable and index linked, in the public service.

What does the Ginger Group appointed by him propose?

First that the existing council be enlarged from 75 to 100 but only meet two to three times a year.

Second, a policy executive, otherwise known as a strategy committee, to be chaired in rotation by "the chair of the council" – otherwise known as the president – and the director general. The staff want equality with the elected or nominated president.

Why else should the chairmanship of the policy executive be chaired in rotation unless it is to enhance the powers of the secretary general?

Third, this policy executive will meet monthly to co-ordinate and prioritise work and allocate resources at monthly meetings. In theory, it will be accountable to the council.

The route from which such ambition stems is curious. For in the same document the group recognise that one of the weaknesses of the present Law Society is that the relationship between the society and the membership has, apparently, worsened.

Other weaknesses admitted by the Ginger Group are: that the press and public image of solicitors is dominated by the image of high earning City firms; increased polarisation between City and high street practitioners; an expensive and unpopular complaints procedure, disliked by the profession because resources are limited and the lines of communication are poor.

The Ginger Group call it a "partnership model". It urges turning the president into a "chair" and the secretary general into a "director general". It is obvious that what is described as a partnership is nothing more than a bid for even greater power by the staff.

It does not seem to have occurred to this Ginger Group that a weak council and strong staff has caused the present weaknesses of which the group is so critical of.

What about the money? The director general and the chair of the council (president) are to be remunerated at a similar level on a fixed term contract. Except for the fact that the director general will be for a maximum of eight years and the chair will come and go on an annual basis.

The wonder is that until now this document has remained obscure and only surfaced after the president and vice-president made clear that the council members are not to be treated as "gofers" for staff at Chancery Lane.