As reported in the latest Fellowship News, Council discussed at their meeting in December 2019 how to deliver reform of the Society’s governance mechanisms in respect of disciplinary matters relating to the Fellowship. Stephen Johnson, no longer a member of Council, but who helped to facilitate the 2015 revision of the Charters, Statutes and Orders, has agreed to help take this work forward, consulting with a small drafting group and with our lawyers, Stone King.

I can now provide a further update on progress.

Council decided that it would not be appropriate in future to subject disciplinary matters of some sensitivity to a vote of the full fellowship at an Extraordinary General Meeting, by post or by e-voting. Their preferred way forward, following the example of other Societies, Professional Bodies and Charities, would be to institute new procedures, independent of Council, to deal with aspects of the conduct of Fellows which might be harmful to the interests and welfare of the Society. Council therefore proposes to adopt a Code of Behaviours that would support our existing Statement of Values, including “hard triggers” that could or would lead to disciplinary action against Fellows.

A rough first draft of the changes to the Statutes Orders has been produced and is presently being examined by our solicitors. The proposed revisions would enable Council to appoint an independent Disciplinary Panel composed of Fellows and others to oversee this process. The Panel’s role would be to investigate cases of infringement of the Code of Behaviours, or complaints about the behaviour of Fellows. Its members would be able to examine sensitive information in confidence, to interview Fellows and complainants where necessary, and to apply any sanction (including suspension of membership or amoval) it deems proportional to the seriousness of the infringement. There would also need to be a final process of appeal to a further independent body.

The next step is to notify the Charity Commission and the Privy Council Office about the proposals and invite their comments. We do not know how long these organisations will take to comment on the proposals, but it is expected to take several weeks.

Once the Charity Commission and Privy Council Office have provided their comments, Council will be able to draw up a detailed timetable for enacting the changes, and this will of course be communicated to the Fellowship. The process and timetable are determined by the Statutes, Chapter 18 /about-us/how-we-run/. The process will involve circulating the proposals to the Fellowship in order that Fellows may propose amendments (Statues 18.2 and 18.3). Council will then circulate a final draft containing the collated amendments for Fellows to vote on at a General Meeting (18.4.2). Please note that in this instance, postal and electronic voting will be available to Fellows who are unable to attend the meeting in person (Order 2.2).

Because of the necessary period of notification to the Charity Commission, the Privy Council Office and consultation with the Fellowship, Council may not be able to have this finalised in time for the Anniversary Meeting in April 2020. However, Council are hoping to see this work completed, and the proposed reforms put to Fellows for a vote (in person, by post and online) as soon after that date as possible.