CLA News / A report on CLA activities from Brian Speers, the CLA President


I prepare this report approximately 3 months before the Commonwealth Law Conference in Nassau, Bahamas. The arrangements for the Conference have of course been greatly impacted by the uncertainties arising from the pandemic.  Will delegates be able to travel and will those who travel be able to return smoothly to their own country after the Conference? After careful balancing of these considerations and consultation with the relevant authorities in the Bahamas and the Conference venue, the CLA decided to proceed on the basis that an in-person conference in Nassau at the Baha Mar International Conference Centre is feasible and indeed desirable.

The Conference theme of “Sustainable justice” seems to be even more important at present when consideration of emergency powers, freedom of travel, employment law changes and the use of technology are all impacted.  In addition, the environmental and climate change focus is accelerating with COP 21 to start on 1st November.

The CLA has not just been busy with Conference preparation but has focused upon a number of recent themes and initiatives to improve our connectivity with the Commonwealth jurisdictions and to focus on transparency and partnerships.

Regarding partnerships, recent collaborations with the Standing International Forum of Commercial Courts (SIFOCC) resulted in an excellent webinar with contributions from the judiciary and practitioners from across the Commonwealth.  The dynamic coordinator of SIFFOC, Mr Justice Knowles, will attend in Nassau and conduct further discussion in a panel considering the operation of commercial courts.

Another partnership which has flourished recently is that with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).  The tension which can sometime exist between the legal profession and the government of the day was drawn out in a recent joint CPA and CLA webinar.  We are delighted that Stephen Twigg, the Secretary General of CPA will attend to discuss parliament and lawyers at the Nassau conference.

Of critical importance is our continuing, deepening and widening relationship with the Commonwealth Secretariat.  Aside from inviting key senior officials to attend a CLA Council Meeting, we have been invited to participate in COMSEC webinars and have invited officials from the Secretariat to participate in the Nassau Conference, particularly in relation to the COMSEC anti-corruption initiatives:

A paper was presented by the CLA to the meeting of the Senior Officers of Law Ministries on the implications for inter Commonwealth trade of the Singapore Mediation Convention.

Aside from these important partnership and collaboration arrangements, the CLA has considered its own Constitution and has brought forward proposals to expand its Council to include all Commonwealth jurisdictions (and in addition Zimbabwe and Hong Kong) together with all British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.  While this will greatly expand the membership of council, it does mean that each jurisdiction has the opportunity of having a member around our CLA council table with an equal voice.  This will ensure that all jurisdictions, large and small, can be heard and can benefit from shared experience and best practice.  This exciting constitutional change has been facilitated by the use of technology, making video conference calls from multiple jurisdictions very straightforward and avoiding the need for travel and expense.

As a further initiative and with an eye to ensuring diversity within the Council and Executive Committee, the Council have approved a working group to consider enhancement of the CLA diversity policy.  The CLA is committed to appropriate representation from a geographical point of view and also from the perspective of gender and minority community rights.  The working group has been convened, is now considering actively an appropriate policy and the policy will be published in due course.

Recently a survey was issued to assist with the CLA Strategic Planning Commitment.  While our CLA Young Lawyers’ Group has been dynamic and effective in its activities and the creation of hubs have given an energy to regional representation, the Strategic Planning Initiative will identify the possible areas for future change.  Do all regions feel represented? Do practitioners in certain areas of work feel that they can connect to CLA?  Is there an effective network opportunity for likeminded colleagues to share thoughts and reach out for advice from those with more experience?  The outcome of the strategic planning exercise and the analysis of responses is underway and again will be published by the CLA.

Throughout all of these activities the core focus of the CLA is on upholding the rule of law and supporting lawyers in circumstances where they are challenged.  As a consequence, the CLA issues its own statements and often joins with other sister organisations in issuing joint statements.  Regrettably the need for identifying rule of law breaches and human rights transgressions has not diminished and may even have increased because of the pandemic and emergency legislation.

Now more than ever, the CLA needs to be vigilant, courageous and energetic in calling out jurisdictions and Governments where the rule of law has been breached and where initiatives are taken which threaten the core value of the independence of the legal profession and the independence of the judiciary.

These activities reflect the growing reach and importance of the CLA.  Further exciting opportunities exist to expand influence, to create learning and experience sharing opportunities and to collaborate and assist in our mission of upholding the rule of law.

I hope to see some of you in Nassau!

Brian Speers