This is a consultation about the development of the UK Constitutional Law Group. Paid-up members received a similar email last month. Several helpful comments have been received and we would like now to open up consultation with people who read the group’s blog but who are not paid-up members. (For the avoidance of confusion: there are no plans to charge for access to the blog; but readers are, of course, encouraged to support the group’s work by joining — if you are not a 2013 member please consider joining here). We are especially keen to hear from people willing to take part in running the group and becoming members of the proposed executive committee.
The gist of the proposals
- the group is placed on a more formal footing by adopting a set of simple rules and transforms itself into the UK Constitutional Law Association with an executive committee elected by members to run its affairs
- there should be a drive to attract more members
- the blog should continue to be developed as a central activity
- alternative income streams are needed to sustain the group; the blog should take paid advertising by legal publishers
- there should be an annual one-day or half-day conference (timed to coincide with an AGM) designed to explore issues and themes that have emerged on the blog during the preceding year.
These changes are evolutionary and have the support of the current co-convenors, the blog editors, and the group’s founders. If you would like to comment on these proposals, please do so either by sending an email to email@example.com (which will not be published) or leaving a “comment” at the end of blog post (some of which may be published).
The UKCLG was founded in 2003 by Tony Bradley (who became its first convenor), Stephen Sedley (who remains the group’s honorary president) and Mads Adeneas (the then director of BIICL). Dawn Oliver succeeded Tony Bradley as convenor in 2007; and she in turn in 2010 by me and Sebastian Payne (as co-convenors). The group has operated informally without a written constitution. A small steering group exists.
What the group does
The group has four main areas of activity. First, since November 2010, the blog edited by Nick Barber regularly publishes contributions from a large team of academic experts. Jeff King has recently joined as a co-editor. Over 1,800 people have signed-up to receive delivery of each blog post to their email inboxes; traffic is increasing, with more than 12,600 visitors in April 2013. The majority of readers are based in the UK but the blog has an international reach.
Second, the group organises meetings. Initially these were held at BIICL, then moved to UCL, and more recently the focus has been on working with other organisations (such as the Study of Parliament Group and the Italian-based Devolution Club).
Third, some larger scale conferences have been put on between 2006 and 2009. The topics included Terrorism and the policy cycle (2006), Reforming Britain’s war powers (2009, in conjunction with RUSI) and Surveillance and the information society (2010), organised by Sebastian Payne. Dawn Oliver organised a roundtable on Constitutional implications of the regulatory state (2008). Clifford Chance LLP kindly provided sponsorship to help fund some of these events.
Fourth: there is a link between the group and the International Association of Constitutional Law. Tony Bradley was a member of the IACL executive committee from 1999 to 2007 and the group was partly formed in order to become an affiliated institutional member of the IACL. Dawn Oliver (2007-2010) and I (2010 to date) have subsequently been elected to the IALC executive committee, ensuring British representation on this body. The IACL’s main event is a world congress, held every four years – Athens in 2007, Mexico in 2010, Oslo in 2014 – with smaller scale round-tables two or three times a year to coincide with executive committee meetings.
Proposals for evolution of the group
Adopting a constitution. For so long as the group was essentially a small group of academics, well known to each other, meeting in London for discussions from time to time, an informal association worked well. As the group’s activities grow and more members are sought we believe that there are benefits in adopting a set of simple rules and restyle the group as the “UK Constitutional Law Association”, with an executive committee elected by members to run its affairs. A draft set of rules can be downloaded here 2013.07.10 Draft Rules for UKCLA and will, if there is sufficient support, be adopted at an AGM held later in the year. Enthusiastic people willing and able to help lead the association will be needed to offer themselves for election to the executive committee.
Membership drive. There is a need to attract more subscribing members and new people willing and able to be involved in the group’s activities. This growth is partly to put the group on a more sustainable financial footing but is equally important to ensure that the group remains a lively, relevant and respected body adding something to the British constitutional law scene. Under the draft rules, three categories of membership are proposed. The main kind is “ordinary membership”, which is intended to be similar to that of the Society of Legal Scholars, ensuring that the Association is a scholarly led by academics (broadly defined), with other people welcome to join as associate members.
Finances. So far in 2013, 70 people have paid a £15 annual subscriptions (mostly bought online). This brings in just sufficient income to meet the group’s running costs, which fall under the following heads:
- the annual affiliation fee to the IACL is €750 (roughly £635)
- travel and accommodation costs for a member attending IACL executive committee meetings are considerable: like previous representatives, Andrew Le Sueur has mostly funded these personally or through his research budget (thanks are especially due to his previous employer, Queen Mary, University of London) but he claimed the cost of an economy air ticket to attend a IACL meeting in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year.
- there are various costs associated with keeping the blog online; as readership increases, it would be prudent to find a webmaster able to ensure security and to develop some more sophisticated features of the site (such as hosting audio and video recordings), which will involve some further expense
- when meetings are held, modest refreshments are provided afterward.
Financial reserves built up from surpluses generated by conferences a few years ago act as a buffer but clearly it is prudent to seek growth in the number of members or alternative income streams, to ensure that longer-term future of the group. We propose that blog should take paid advertising by legal publishers to generate a new income stream; whenever possible, members will be offered discounts on selected publications.
The blog. Building on its considerable success, the blog should continue to be developed as a central activity for the group. The editorial team has recently been enlarged, with Jeff King of UCL joining Nick Barber as a co-editor. The blog has given the group a reach beyond London and (though posts and comments) enables participation in the group’s activities. In the run-up to the 2014 IACL Oslo world congress, the blog provides a way of informing people about the work of the IACL. There are a number of ideas for the creative development of the blog, while maintaining its high academic standards. There is no proposal to make the blog accessible to members only; it will continue to be free to read.
Events. In its early years, the group’s main activity was to hold evening seminars (first at BIICL then at UCL), which attracted a loyal, but sometimes quite small following. Over the years, a wide range of topics has been discussed, attracting audiences of between single figures and 50 plus. The evening meetings have taken place in London, which makes them inaccessible to some members and would-be members. As outlined above, Sebastian Payne organised several larger scale events. We propose a new type of event – an annual one-day or half-day conference (and AGM) built around themes and issues explored in the preceding year on the blog. Efforts will be made to attract sponsorship for this. Other ad hoc events, some in conjunction with other organisations, would continue to be held from time to time.
Please let us have your views.
Andrew Le Sueur and Sebastian Payne are the co-convenors of the UK Constitutional Law Group. Andrew serves on the executive committee of the IACL. Nick Barber is the founding editor of the blog.
Suggested citation: A. Le Sueur, S. Payne and N. Barber, ‘Next steps for the UK Constitutional Law Group’ (21 August 2013) (available at http://ukconstitutionallaw.org).