Bracton Law Society (BLS) will be closed and replaced by a new academic society, following a Guild and Law School-led review board’s recommendations.
Yet the BLS President questioned the findings, saying that they were not in light of the current committee’s work. She vowed to continue BLS’s activities during the next term.
In a statement posted to Facebook and emailed to members, she also said that “[they] were told at this point that [they] would then be able to inform you through a statement, which would then be followed by an email by the law school.”
The review board surveyed outgoing third year students. It found that 52.5% of comments were negative and 41.7% positive, and that BLS was “starkly at odds with the values of both the Students’ Guild and the University of Exeter in terms of inclusivity, diversity and tolerance.”
Negative aspects were “an overall lack of diversity, affordability and referenced an exclusive and elitist atmosphere”, according to an executive summary of the review sent to law students.
The Students’ Guild accepted these recommendations and will close the society, according to an email from Richard Edwards, Head of the Law School.
Earlier this year, BLS drew national attention after racist and sexist comments made in a group chat were revealed. The University took disciplinary action against the students involved in the group chat.
BLS have said in Facebook posts and in emails that they will continue to operate during the next term and that they would continue to run their events.
Lily Hayes, BLS President, said that the BLS committee “were in the process of being told about the Review Board’s findings when the email from the law school released the email… The Guild listened to me read my statement that was sent to all members and posted on our Facebook but had no contribution to the words used.”
She said: “it seemed highly inappropriate for the Law School to release the statement just minutes after the meeting was supposed to finish, given that we hadn’t, by this point, actually been told what the findings were, just the recommendations.
“Although not mentioned in the actual email from the email (just the summary of findings attached to the email), we were told that the recommendations were not a reflection of the work we had done so far this year by the current committee. Regarding the work we have done to make the society more inclusive, it has been our mission statement from the get go to make BLS a society for its members, with every voice being heard. Our Inclusivity and Equality Officer has worked incredibly hard all term, despite us repeatedly asking the Guild to provide training for this position, a position that we were told all societies would be enrolling onto their committee.”
She outlined efforts made by the current BLS committee to make the society more inclusive, including working with African and Caribbean Society and Women and Law, a BAME in Law event, work on the Penryn campus, free pro bono and career opportunities, advocacy and academic support, adding: “I find it deeply disheartening that despite all of this, BLS was still called unfit for purpose.”
“Working this year with some of the top law firms in the country has showed us their dedication to watch the society grow and improve and again, I find it disheartening that the Review Board did not feel the same… Although we respect that Review Board has taken its time in delivering their recommendations, we find them disproportionate to what will actually be achieved and it will surely have detrimental effect on current and soon to be Exeter graduates.”
A spokesman for the University of Exeter said: “After an incident involving students from the Bracton Law Society earlier this year, the University launched a major investigation that determined individual sanctions on those involved – this included expulsions, suspensions, and other significant penalties. Subsequently, the Students’ Guild and the University conducted a broader formal joint review of the Society and its operations. The Review Board determined that the conduct of the Society fell short of the standards and values of the University and Students’ Guild, and should therefore be disbanded. A new, distinct Law Society will be formed in its place, which will offer members a broad range of opportunities to broaden their skills, career development and employment opportunities. The Students’ Guild and the University are confident that the new society will ensure that current and future students have a society that is truly inclusive, and can all be proud of.”
VP Activities commented: “This year’s committee have made obvious improvements to the Bracton Law Society and I appreciate the steps they have taken. However, the legacy of a few students’ actions last year and the evidence collected by the review board this year has resulted in the recommendation to create a new society. This will provide the best opportunity for the society to move past the events of last year and to create a more positive legacy.”