Easter 2014 - The Cambridge Union Society

Michael Dunn Goekjian
President, Easter 2014
Email: [email protected]
Enquiries: [email protected]
Press Release – 18.02.2016
‘Changes to the Constitution of the Cambridge Union Society’
On Tuesday 29th April the Union’s trustees unanimously passed a new constitution for the Society, due to come into force after the
end of this term. Please see the following email that was just sent to members from the President explaining the changes, which is
expected to be delivered over the course of the next two hours.
After the letter, I have included points of clarification that should address any questions you have.
“Dear {Member},
I hope that you are having an enjoyable term. At the end of a busy week here at the Union, I am writing to let you know about changes to our
constitution passed by the trustees on Tuesday morning.
Changes to the Union’s constitution have been in the pipeline for some time now. After approximately 18 months of consultation with multiple
Standing Committees; Janet Turner QC, a Union trustee and one of the country’s leading charities lawyers, finalised a new draft of the Union
constitution that was submitted for Standing Committee’s approval last week. Elected officers voted in favour of the new draft, with eleven votes in
support and two abstentions. The trustees (including myself) passed it unanimously last Tuesday morning, as per Chapter A, Paragraph 4 of the
current Laws. The new constitution will come into effect after the end of this term, to give all parties time to familiarise themselves with its provisions.
Many of the changes are designed to address technicalities, but the changes are being made along three major areas:
A Legal Facelift.
The Union is a registered charity and a limited company, subject to the rigours of both companies and charities laws. As such, its governing documents
ought be consistent with the highest standards of legal documentation. The current constitution is illogically ordered, verbose and unclear in parts. The
new draft, produced with the input of legal experts, clears much of this up, and is significantly shorter and easier to understand.
Changes to Discipline
In the event of a complaint made against a member, the results of any investigation will be kept secret until the member in
question has had a chance to appeal the verdict reached. This ensures the reputations of individuals under investigation
are not unfairly impugned should they be found innocent on appeal.
In the event of a Presidential conflict of interest, investigations pass directly to Review Committee (an impartial committee
of former Union officers). Currently the duty to investigate Union Officers passes down the order of precedence in
Standing Committee. It will now go directly to Review Committee. This ensures investigations are conducted by those
with a specific remit to do so, rather than swamping the in-trays of Standing Committee members who are busy
running the Union’s term, and who may well have conflicts of interest of their own.
Legal clarifications are also being made. All terms in the new constitution (e.g. conflicts of interest) are scrupulously
defined in accordance with legal standards, with input from Daniel Janner QC, a Union trustee, and criminal barrister.
Qualification for the Presidency
Presidents will have to have held an elected officership or full-appointed position before their election; this change has been long discussed and agreed
to be both legally and practically necessary. There are numerous positions in the Union that require no prior experience, but the President is a trustee
responsible for the management of a multimillion-pound charitable organisation, and such individuals ought to have some experience with the internal
workings of the Union. This is not just best practice: it is also a legal requirement. The other trustees, who must vote the President onto the board, are
legally obligated to appoint appropriately qualified individuals to their number. If an individual with no experience of the organisation were elected
President, the trustees would potentially have to default on that legal obligation, or refuse to appoint the President to the board, severing the link
between members of the Union (i.e. students) and the trustees. Both are unthinkable prospects, but an easily fulfilled qualification to stand for the
Presidency, which requires only one term in an appointed role or elected position, addresses this concern.
A copy of the new constitution will be published online in due course. Obviously, governance is very much an evolutionary process; the new
document will doubtless be subject to review and amendment in future. Nonetheless, it ought to provide a clearer and more stable framework for our
governance and enable us to provide a better service for members.
The Union is an unusual organisation; it is a student society, a charity, and a company; it hosts events and speakers with wide-ranging impacts on
public life; and it plays an active role in promoting access to the art of debating. Naturally, these disparate functions occasionally give rise to conflicting
or unclear obligations, which these changes will hopefully help to iron out.
Thank you for reading this message. I wish you all the best for the coming week. If you have the time and inclination, please do join us for Sylvester
McCoy’s hotly anticipated talk at seven tomorrow evening.
Best wishes,
THE CAMBRIDGE UNION SOCIETY, 9A Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UB, United Kingdom
Registered Charity, No. 1136030
Michael Dunn Goekjian
President, Easter 2014
Email: [email protected]
Enquiries: [email protected]
To predict a likely question, it is worth noting that there are two methods in which the Constitution can be altered should Standing
Committee choose: either through a vote of the trustees or through a Members’ Business Meeting.
Past constitutional amendments have been carried out through the latter, where 70 full members of the Society must be present to
vote on proposed changes. Seeing as it is exam term and that members are busy revising for their respective courses, it was felt that
this was a less feasible option, especially given that the last few Members’ Business Meetings have had an attendance of one.
Moreover, after eighteen months of active consultation and four years of effort on constitutional change, all relevant parties were
eager to see the changes passed before next term. As a result the trustees, who are experts in this field, used their power to amend
Chapter A of the current document, which in turn gave them the authority to amend the rest of the text as well.
Please do get in contact with the Head of Press, Oliver Mosley, if you require any further clarification.
--By Michael Dunn Goekjian
President, Easter 2014
THE CAMBRIDGE UNION SOCIETY, 9A Bridge Street, Cambridge, CB2 1UB, United Kingdom
Registered Charity, No. 1136030