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About the Association



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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. This report notes activities of CAPSL since the last meeting in Melbourne in 2003. Consistently with prior reports, it contains some history as well as some background for new members. In that sense much of the history is extracted from the report given to the 2003 Meeting by the former Secretary Christopher Robinson and I acknowledge his contribution.
  1. It then lists what we have (and/or have not) achieved so far and finally seeks to target 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 ours stems from a discussion 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 in relation to future such conferences and  Mr. Robinson was asked to explore the possibilities.
  1. One of the reasons behind long time initial Secretary, Christopher Robinson, attending the conference, which was funded by the Law Society Local Government Group, was to try and establish links with local government lawyers in other Commonwealth jurisdictions for mutual benefit. The Group had therefore few, if any, reservations in subsequently agreeing to support his eventual proposal to try and establish a Commonwealth-wide public sector lawyers association and to fund its establishment costs.
  1. In the run up to the Nicosia Conference in 1993 arrangements were made, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association which Mr. Robinson had by then joined, for an exploratory meeting to be held. Carl Rattray QC, Attorney Jamaica 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 the conclusion, there being unanimous support for establishment of a public sector lawyers association, it was agreed to establish a steering committee with Mr Robinson 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.
  1. Despite teething problems, with help from the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Military Lawyers Association a draft constitution was eventually put together. 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 of the emerging association.
  1. The main 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 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 issue of constitution content was left for further discussion between the Commonwealth Secretariat and Mr. Robinson as 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
  1. 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.
  1. The next meting was intended to have been in Zimbabwe. However, with that conference not held, it became necessary to identify 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 was a tireless help in preparation for the Melbourne Conference.
  1. The Melbourne conference was held on the day before the Commonwealth Law Conference proper. It involved a series of seminars on a range of topics of relevance to public sector lawyers and involved speakers from Jamaica, UK, Australia, New Zealand. At the Melbourne meeting Mr. Robinson, CAPSL's long time initial secretary (and one might say prime mover) retired from his position and the Secretaryship moved to Greg Ross in Australia. 
  1. I must say that Mr. Robinson's continuing support and involvement has been most beneficial and, at times, indispensable to me as I work my way through the intricacies of Commonwealth arrangements. 
  2. Logistics has demonstrated the need for a UK based Assistant Secretary. Nigel Roberts was selected and his  assistance as Assistant Secretary has greatly aided and relieved the problem of  distance in CAPSL's regular communication with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
  1. The position of Treasurer passed to Michael Antrum also of Australia. 
  1. In the absence from  the Melbourne meeting of a UK based CAPSL member having volunteered to be Chair,  Mr. Syme retained the Chair pending identification of a UK based lawyer and with the concurrence of the President of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Mike Kendall, County Secretary, West Sussex County Council UK agreed to take on the position and was duly appointed

The Present

  1. Associations such as CAPSL are not easily or quickly established, particularly due to the tyranny of distance and funding concerns which require most CAPSL efforts to be voluntary.
  1. Since 2003 the NSW Law Society's Government Solicitor's Committee has sponsored CAPSL by providing monetary and administrative support to CAPSL.
  1. Over time CAPSL has steadily, if slowly, progressed towards building a viable association membership base. The initially key priority, to promote and develop our membership base, has been our main concern and with some success.
  1. The development and subsequent maintenance of the CAPSL web site is of equal significance but funding remains a problem..
  1. CAPSL has regular contact with the Commonwealth Secretariat on a range of issues. CAPSL already features as links from and to a range of key web sites eg IBA, CLA, Commonwealth Secretariat. We also feature in a number of relevant reference books. We have been invited to take part in Commonwealth and NGO related events. 
  1. The Australian Government's Administrative Review Council recognises CAPSL for submission on law reform issues and late last year invited the Secretary to the launch on its paper by the Australian Attorney General on use of Automated Decision making.
  1. More recently Mr. Kendall has been asked to chair a session at the Commonwealth Law Conference, and the Secretary of CAPSL to Chair a day of a conference in Canberra, Australia, on the Difficulties of  In House Counsel in the Public Sector.
  1. We have a Constitution which clearly demonstrates our objectives and whilst it may from time to time need some minor amendment it provides us with a flexible and workable document for the foreseeable future.  
  1. Since 1999 we have established our own web site which is regularly updated.
  1. The second phase of its development, a more sophisticated and probably password Q&A base for swapping ideas ) remains in abeyance pending experience with the maintenance and usage of the first phase and, most relevantly, funding. 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 a regular newsletter emailed or air mailed direct to each member.
  1. Our membership currently stands at 27 Institutional members (10 associations and 17 government legal services) and about 140 individual members (though contact with some has been lost due to changes in email address and the like) .
  1. The members are representative of a majority of the 54 Commonwealth countries and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
  1. The vast majority of members have been able to provide an email address which not only speeds up communication but keeps administrative costs to a minimum.
  1. Member recruitment has not been as fast as we would have hoped.. We 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
  1. Individual Member retention also remains a problem for two reasons. CAPSL recruits well at each Conference from the host nation but the majority who join, with little prospect of attending future Commonwealth Law Conferences and association meetings, soon fall by the way side.
  1. A further and significant 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.  I have embarked on attempts to have a member in each jurisdiction try to track and or update each jurisdictions members addresses. That will take time and in some places is a not insignificant task.

The Future - The Challenge

  1. Both now and in the future CAPSL is  faced with a number of problems some of which will require discussion and or resolution at the London meeting. These will be considered in the following paragraphs.
  1. The first  issue for the Association is the election of Association officers for the period 2005 to the next Conference. If current policy is followed then the Chair will be taken by a senior public sector lawyer form the host nation for that Conference.
  1. Accordingly, steps are in train to identify a nominee from Kenya who will be prepared to organise the Association’s participation in that Conference as Mike Kendall has done for this Conference in London.
  1. It is hoped that our liaison with Kenyan lawyers will identify a likely candidate and that  such a nominee will be available for election at our meeting. We do not yet have any nominations for Secretary or Treasurer other than the existing officeholders.. Any further nominations, also identifying a nominee to become Treasurer, will have to be considered at the meeting (Further details of the role of the Secretary can be obtained from the Secretary.)
  1. Most important will be the future financing of the Association.
  1. The UK Law Society Local Government Group agreed to fund the initial cost of establishing the Association and continued to meet all its subsequent administrative costs until 2003 when the NSW Law Society's Government Solicitor's Committee assumed responsibility by way of sponsorship.. The UK Law Society Local Government Group Trust Fund has also committed funds to cover the cost of developing both phases of the web site. It seems unlikely that money for phase two will now be available from that source and, in the longer term, I am considering whether we will have to find some other form or sponsorship. That may include further discussions with the NSW Law Society
  1. CAPSL is presently a subscription free association with very modest costs.
  1. The cost of collection from individual members would so far almost certainly have increased substantially our costs and involved an unacceptable additional amount of Secretarial time. Collection from Institutional members might 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 a positive.
  1. The introduction of subscriptions for Institutional members may have to be reconsidered as 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 would hopefully be limited to those in the larger developed countries. Subscriptions for Individual members, for both cost and time reasons, would still seem to be undesirable.
  1. It is presently the case that the NSW Law Society's Government Solicitors Committee provides cover for administrative costs.. Alternatively a charity or employer in the country of  either the Chair  or the Secretary and Treasurer might be prepared to do so. In this event and in either case it would probably be necessary to restrict expenditure..
  1. 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 practice (as is now becoming common in some jurisdictions) or a commercial organisation in the publishing or IT field providing services to government in return for advertising on the web site, its Newsletters, its notepaper and any other publications. I have had some low key discussions with a representative of the Government of Norfolk Island providing some form of sponsorship or hastening of the website but negotiations have not led to any concrete proposal.
  1. The last major issue is the future of the web site. Will this be maintained by the Secretary and, if not, by whom and at what extra cost? Mr. Robinson has been prepared to carry on doing so for some time but CAPSL will soon have to find an alternative 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.
  1. 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 will hopefully  not be difficult to develop but it will increase administration and cost particularly in terms of the issue and tracking of passwords.
  1. If we adopt this option we will have to consider aspects of  the present site, eg should the membership email address records move to the proposed secure section, in the interests of reducing public access to names and email addresses or even for reasons of privacy? Before a decision to proceed is taken we need to be satisfied that such a facility is wanted and would be used. The apparent limited present usage of the site by members raises doubts in this respect although it could be that the existence of the facility would encourage greater use of the site by members
  1. Is there any need for change to the newsletter and updating of the website?
  1. We clearly need to tackle the membership recruitment and retention problems. How do we better encourage government legal services to sign up to the Association as Institutional members and provide information for the web site database? How do we better track email and or postal addresses of members?
  1. Are there areas where we can improve services to members within the terms of the Associations objects and resource capacity? 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 more in line with our aims, but money is a problem.
  1. I apologise if, as I fear, I am unable to attend due to the ill health of my mother .
  1. I quote some words from our former Secretary, Christopher Robinson, which he used in Melbourne and remain a very good explanation of CAPSL’s role “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 Commonwealth Law Ministers and the Legal Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat both of which are 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.” If we can  garner  a bit of support I see CAPSL and having potential to be a boon both for public sector lawyers around the Commonwealth but also for the rule of law.


            Greg Ross

            Secretary of CAPSL

 August 2005