Home Page
Bulletin Board

About the Association



To view minutes of previous meetings please click here.
General Meetings




The aims of the Association are:


to promote interest within the Commonwealth in all aspects of public sector law and its practice;


to provide a focus and forum for the exchange of information and ideas;


to support public sector lawyers in the carrying out their professional duties:



to provide machinery for the organisation or promotion of training and consultancy services for public sector lawyers;



to assist the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and the organisers of the Commonwealth Law Conferences on all matters relating to public sector law and its practice; and



to undertake any activity relevant to and calculated to implement and foster all or any of the preceding aims.




  1. The purpose of this report is to set the scene for the consideration of later items on this agenda. It starts by recording where we have come from to provide an historical record for the future as well as a background for those who are new to the Association. It then considers what we have (or have not) achieved so far. Finally it seeks to identify the issues that we need now (or may need in the relatively near future) to address.

 The Past.

  1. The idea of such an association as this stems from a discussion on the steps of the Aotea Centre in Auckland during the course of the 9th Commonwealth Law Conference in 1990 by three local government delegates, who felt that there was little of sufficient interest in what was otherwise an excellent programme, to attract local government lawyers particularly and government lawyers generally. It was agreed that something needed to be done to ensure that future such conferences were more relevant to public sector lawyers and I was asked to explore the possibilities.
  2. One of the reasons behind my attendance at the conference, which was funded by the Law Society Local Government Group of England and Wales, was to try and establish links with local government lawyers in other Commonwealth jurisdictions for our mutual benefit. The Group had therefore few if any reservations in subsequently agreeing to support my eventual proposal that we should try and establish a commonwealth-wide public sector lawyers association and that the Group should fund the establishment costs.
  3. In the run up to the Nicosia Conference in 1993 arrangements were made, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association which I had by then joined, for an exploratory meeting to be held as at the Nicosia Conference. Carl Rattray QC, the Jamaican Attorney General, accepted an invitation to address the meeting on the theme “The Lawyer – the key to sound Public Sector Administration”. The meeting was in consequence well attended and at its conclusion, there being unanimous support for establishment of a public sector lawyers association, it was agreed to establish a steering committee with myself as Secretary. There was the promise of assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat who felt that its establishment would have wide-ranging benefits. The task of the steering committee was to make arrangements for a further meeting at the next Conference and to prepare a draft constitution for discussion on that occasion.
  4. Unfortunately little support was forthcoming from those who had volunteered themselves as members of the Steering Committee but with help from the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Military Lawyers Association a draft constitution was eventually put together. After much correspondence David Gates, a Canadian lawyer who was at the time Chairman of the CBA Public Sector Lawyers Conference, eventually agreed to take responsibility for making the detailed arrangements for and for chairing the proposed meeting in Vancouver in 1996. He thus became in practice de facto Chair and the only active member of the Steering Committee and the emerging association.
  5. The Vancouver Conference was immediately preceded by a highly successful one day seminar organised by David for his CBA colleagues but to which all public sector lawyers attending the Conference were made welcome. During the course of the Conference the inaugural meeting of the Association was held at which refreshments were kindly provided at the expense of Sweet & Maxwell. There was a stimulating address by the late John Tait, at the time the Deputy Justice Minister of Canada, on the theme “The Public Service Lawyer; Service to the Client and the Rule of Law”. An interesting discussion of the draft constitution then followed. On one point, the composition of a small representative Executive Committee, there were diverging views and in consequence the draft was approved only as a working document until the next Conference. The contentious issue was left for further discussion between the Commonwealth Secretariat and me as, by then, the duly elected Association Secretary.  Dato Heliliah Yusof, Solicitor General of Malaysia, as the nominated representative of the host country for the next conference, was duly elected as Association Chairman
  6. In Kuala Lumpur in 1999, a seminar was not arranged although the Association took joint responsibility for organising and providing speakers for a plenary Conference session on Judicial Review. As the Minutes of the General Meeting on that occasion are attached to this agenda, the meeting calls for no further comment at this point except to say that it subsequently became necessary to identify, in the light of the continuing problems in Zimbabwe, an Australian lawyer to take over the Association Chairmanship. With the concurrence of the President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, James Syme the Victorian Government Solicitor agreed to take on the task and was duly appointed. He has since been a tireless help in preparation for our involvement in the Melbourne Conference.

The Present

  1. It will be clear from the preceding paragraphs that such associations are not easily or quickly established. However, since 1996 as the succeeding paragraphs attempt to show we have made steady if slow progress towards building a viable association. Initially the priority was to promote and develop our membership base. This remains a key task although since 1999 the development and subsequent maintenance of the web site has had equal importance
  2. Although we are not as yet an accredited Commonwealth NGO, we are reasonably hopeful that we might soon be. Nevertheless we already feature links from and to all key web sites eg IBA, CLA, Commonwealth Secretariat. We also feature in a number of relevant reference books. We are also being invited to take part in Commonwealth and NGO related events.
  3. We have an approved Constitution which clearly sets out our objectives and whilst it may from time to time require modest amendment it should provide us with a workable document for the foreseeable future.  
  4. Since 1999 we have established our own web site which is regularly updated on a monthly basis. The second phase of its development has been held in abeyance pending experience with the maintenance and usage of the first phase. It is already a valuable tool for members who wish to keep up to date as well as a useful means of promoting the Association to a wider audience, particularly potential members. All the Association’s basic records are currently available on the site and open for inspection without restriction. We also now have at least a biannual newsletter emailed or air mailed direct to each member.
  5. Our membership currently stands at 23 Institutional members (9 associations and 14 government legal services) and 70 Individual members. The members are representative of 24 of the 54 Commonwealth countries and the Commonwealth Secretariat. All but 4 members been able to provide an email address which not only speeds up communication but keeps administrative costs to a minimum. This latter point is particularly important at the present time as we are a subscription free association and reliant on a sponsor to cover our administrative expenditure.
  6. Member recruitment has not been as fast as we would have hoped given the enthusiasm at the 1999 meeting of the Association and the launch of the web site in October 2001. We have as yet no members, institutional or individual, in more than 50% of the Commonwealth countries and have only persuaded a very small proportion of government legal services to provide information for our web site and at the same time become institutional members. Those services that have joined also include a number of state and provincial services not originally in contemplation when the site was first launched and so the proportion of national services is even smaller than the statistics would suggest.
  7. Individual Member retention also remains a problem for two reasons. We recruit well at each Conference from the host nation but the majority who join, with little prospect of attending future conferences and association meetings, soon fall by the way side. A further difficulty stems from the use of email rather than postal addresses. Members are mobile and whilst an air mail stands a chance of being forwarded, computers are much less forgiving and a significant proportion of emailed material is returned as undeliverable. If all members would only leave a forwarding address for both purposes or advise the Secretary of any changes, life would be easier and we would lose fewer members.

 The Future

  1. In both the immediate future and in the longer term we are faced with a number of problems some of which will require resolution at the Melbourne meeting. These will be considered in the following paragraphs.
  2. The most important immediate issue for the Association is the election of Association officers for the period 2003 to the next Conference. If current policy is followed then the Chair will be taken by a senior public sector lawyer from the host nation for that Conference, now probably the United Kingdom. As soon as the venue is confirmed steps will be taken to identify a nominee who will be prepared in particular to organise the Association’s participation in that Conference as James Syme as done so well for the Melbourne Conference. It was hoped that there would be such a nominee available for election at our meeting but as this now seems unlikely James Syme has indicated that he would be prepared to continue as Chairman pending the appointment of his successor. More important is the identification of a new Secretary who will need to identify, under the terms of the Constitution, a nominee from the same jurisdiction for election as Treasurer. No formal nomination for the role of Secretary has so far been received although Greg Ross (Australia) May yet be prepared to stand in if no one else comes forward. Any nominations, also identifying a nominee to become Treasurer, should be sent as soon as possible to the Secretary from whom further details of the role can be obtained.
  3. Equally important will be the future financing of the Association. As mentioned above the Law Society Local Government Group agreed to fund the cost of establishing the Association and has continued to meet all its subsequent administrative costs. Its Trust Fund has also committed funds to cover the cost of developing both phases of the web site. Whilst the money for phase two (the development of a secure section in which members can publish papers on which they would welcome comments and problems on which they would like advice from colleagues) will remain available, the Group will cease funding the Association’s administrative costs from the conclusion of the Melbourne Conference. There would seem to be three possible alternative sources of funding available – subscription, grant or sponsorship. The new Secretary will need to resolve this issue quickly.
  4. We are at present a subscription free association with very modest costs. The cost of subscription collection from individual members would have increased substantially our costs and involved an unacceptable additional amount of Secretarial time. Collection from Institutional members would have been possible. However at a time when we had funding and we were trying to develop the membership base, both Individual and Institutional, the absence of subscriptions was seen as positive. The introduction of subscriptions for all Institutional members may now be the best way forward particularly if expenditure is going to increase significantly. It could, however, be introduced for professional institutions only or for government legal services only. In either case it could be limited to those in the more developed countries – Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Subscriptions for Individual members, for both cost and time reasons, would still seem to be undesirable.
  5. As to grant, it could be that the professional institution or government legal service of the country to which the new Secretary belonged would be prepared to cover the Association’s administrative expenditure on the same basis as the Law Society Local Government Group has done so far. Alternatively a charity or employer in the same country might be prepared to do so. In this event it would probably be necessary to restrict expenditure to broadly its present level.
  6. Whether there would be any scope for the sponsorship route is questionable but might be worth a try if this is felt by the Association to be an acceptable option. The obvious targets would be a legal practice with a significant public sector involvement or a commercial organisation in, say, the publishing or IT field which provides services to government. We could in return offer advertising on the web site, the Newsletters, the notepaper and any other publications.
  7. The next issue is the future of the web site. Will this be maintained by the new Secretary and, if not, by whom and at what extra cost? I would be prepared to carry on as now for a while, particularly if we decide to go ahead with the second phase of its development, but an early decision is needed as to the longer term. The second phase of development is intended to provide a secure section in which members can publish papers on which they would welcome comments and problems on which they would like advice from colleagues. This phase would not be difficult to develop but it will increase administration particularly in terms of the issue and tracking of passwords. If we go down this route is there any section of the site at present, eg the membership records, which we should move to the secure section?
  8. Before a decision to proceed is taken we need to be satisfied that such a facility is wanted and would be used. An analysis of the use of the site for the first 8 months of 2002 – detailed figures are unfortunately not available for subsequent months because of current software problems – show that the site only attracted 276 hits from only 14 Commonwealth countries and 50% of these were UK hits which included mine in the course of site management. The apparent limited present usage of the site by members raises doubts whether further site development would be justified although it could be that the existence of the new secure facility would encourage greater use of the site by members.
  9. The next issue is the Newsletter. Can we and if so should we seek to improve the content and frequency of the Newsletter or is the regular monthly updating of the web site with a newsletter two or three times a year adequate?
  10. We clearly need to tackle the membership recruitment and retention problems. In particular what more can we do to encourage government legal services to sign up to the Association as Institutional members and provide information for the web site database considered so important by those present at the meeting in Kuala Lumpur? As an aid to recruitment we also need to clarify the present membership provisions in the Constitution as indeed the Commonwealth Lawyers Association itself is also seeking to do. Suggestions to this end have been canvassed in recent Newsletters and have attracted no comments positive or negative. Specific proposals to this end are therefore included on the agenda for our Melbourne meeting.
  11. Are there areas where we can improve services to members within the terms of the Association’s objects? In particular are there any training needs that the Association should try and promote beyond those that already exist. Would there be support for say a biennial public sector lawyers’ workshop to be organised by the Association in conjunction with the Legal Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat? This would certainly be cheaper and provide a more focused solution to training needs than anything that we could organise in conjunction with the Commonwealth Law Conferences.


  1. I make no apologies for the length of this report as it is by way of a handover document as well as providing background for our Melbourne meeting. It only remains for me to say how much I have enjoyed my involvement in the establishment and running of our Association although it has at times proved to be a very frustrating job! I am sure that the Association is a very necessary addition to the Commonwealth legal framework and trust that it will continue to have the support of not only the Commonwealth Lawyers Association but also the Commonwealth Law Ministers and the Legal and Constitutional Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat which is essential if the Association is to develop into the force for good governance and the rule of law throughout the Commonwealth that I am sure it will become.

 cjdr 15 March 2003