Time for consensus not confrontation

Tony Twemlow is a partner at Cuff Roberts and president of the Liverpool Law Society.

Tony Twemlow thinks that divisive Law Society politics serve no one's interests

David Thomas (The Lawyer 23 October 'Time is ripe for constructive debate') asked Martin Mears to stop fighting the Law Society Council and start building bridges. I may be biased because David Thomas is my council member but I wholeheartedly agree.

The president is entitled to claim that his election gives him a mandate to implement the proposals which were at the heart of his manifesto. His problem is that he has no power to deliver those promises singlehanded. That power rests with the council. The president knew that when the promises were made.

Council members are equally entitled to claim that they are elected to represent their constituents and are not obliged to throw away their consciences, intellects and experience overnight in order to toe the new president's line.

We are faced with a situation in which there is no obvious consensus between the president and the majority of the council on important issues affecting the future of the profession. A means of resolving that disagreement must be found.

A solution might be to encourage more hotly contested elections for seats on the council with candidates submitting detailed manifestoes for consideration by their constituents. Do we really want that? It is likely to produce a period of acrimony, stalemate and chaos until a majority party emerges. It must also lead to polarisation of views supporting different parts of the profession. Would it be desirable for a large minority group with a feeling of being oppressed by the majority to emerge? I prefer an alternative view. The profession has always governed itself by consensus not confrontation and that ought to continue. Any move towards confrontational politics can only increase the risk that the profession will fragment into different groups.

There does seem to be an acceptance that the election was a useful and necessary catalyst for reform and most council members are willing to build bridges with the new president and recognise that in the search for consensus the views of his manifesto are entitled to considerable weight.

However, some believe that some of the things which he argues for are unworkable or could be improved by discussion. They need to be debated in a style which encourages consensus. The difficulty seems to be that Mr Mears is in no mood for consensus and seems almost to relish the prospect of confrontation. As a result, there is a risk that our leaders will become so enmeshed in confrontation that they will lose sight of the issues to the detriment of us all.

Then there is the $64,000 question of the society's constitution. It seems there must be something wrong when our president declares that, when standing for a second term, he will refuse to accept the endorsement of the council even if it were offered to him and will try to ensure that sitting council members who disagree with him are opposed when up for re-election by candidates who he will support. That is confrontation par excellence.

On the basis of reductio ad absurdum, logic requires that an elected president who takes this stance must be given his own office and staff in a 'White House' from which he can negotiate at arms' length with the council and its staff. Otherwise, the staff of the society cannot begin to understand where their loyalties lie. That is not fair to them and it must adversely affect their morale which is not in the interests of any of us.

A constitution which allows this situation to prevail must be suspect. It is odd that a profession which derives a modest amount of its income from drafting the constitutions of others should have such an apparently idiosyncratic constitution itself.

Now is probably not the best time to address the problem but I doubt if the present constitution can be made to work without a willingness to seek consensus and to avoid confrontation from both sides of the divide.

The phrase which most readily falls from the lips of council members at the moment seems to be 'We live in interesting times'. The needs of the profession require that times should become less 'interesting' and more constructive.