Back to top
News In Focus

Lay observers call for constitution reforms

21 July 2010

Three of the lay observers who sit on the Law Society of Scotland's Council have voiced their support for reform of the Society's constitution, as the consultation period on proposed changes nears its conclusion.

Dr Bronwen Cohen, Professor Stewart Hamilton and Sir William Mackay have each contributed to the Journal Online Forum section some views on the direction the Society should take, particularly as regards Council membership but also other governance matters.

Dr Cohen, who is also chief executive of Children in Scotland, argues that while she has witnessed much valuable work being carried out by the Society in her four years on Council, "more could certainly be done to modernise its structures and processes, particularly for a body that promotes high standards and values".

She adds that an issue at the heart of the process of change is the level of involvement of lay members. "Lay members are, in my view, a valuable means of enabling a profession to see themselves through the eyes of others and to remain in touch with the public. And to learn from other organisations dealing, in some cases, with similar issues. My own experience – within Children in Scotland and other organisations – suggests that this can be particularly important for organisations seeking to manage, rather than to just respond to, changes in the world around them."

The proposed 20% lay membership of Council, she believes, is "relatively modest compared with some other professional bodies but offers a good basis for moving forward".

For Professor Hamilton, a chartered accountant there are lessons to be learned from elsewhere, such as the accountants' Institute in Ontario, Canada, of which he is a member. He also argues that it is a weakness of the current solicitor membership of Council that some members appear to speak for an inerest group rather than the geographical area they are elected to represent, and that an enhanced element of representation by interest group would be an improvement. However he warns that the potential size of Council risks being "unwieldy" and may have to be revisited.

Sir William Mackay, former Clerk of the House of Commons, argues that the experience of the recent AGM of the Society, when it could have happened that three conflicting motions on the same subject could all have been passed, demonstrates that "the standing orders in particular are simply unable to deliver the kind of clear results required of an organisation such as the Society".

He adds: "Reform of the Society’s constitution is tied up with changes that are taking place within the organisation, the legal profession and wider society. The revised rulebook will have to be flexible enough to cope with increasing demands and expectations." He too supports the proposed 20% lay membership as the appropriate level of external experience and expertise to "bring greater rigour to (among other things) financial planning and review".

Click here for the Society's constitution consultation page. The deadline for comments is this Friday, 23 July.

Have your say