At the November 8 AMS Council meeting, the Governance Committee recommended that the society’s student court be abolished because of its “uselessness” in fulfilling the roles it was created for. The committee is now working on a proposal that will be presented to Council in the coming months.
According to AMS President Alan Ehrenholz, this proposal will outline the removal of the court’s responsibilities that no longer relevant or required today, and the delegation of its other duties to different bodies within the AMS.
If Council approves this proposal, the implementation of these changes would be decided through a referendum as part of the AMS general elections’ ballot in March 2018.
“In this case, the final decision is the students’,” he said.
At the time of its creation, the student court was meant to serve as an autonomous disciplinary body that would settle internal conflicts and election disputes, as well as suggest the position that the AMS should take in contentious situations.
For instance, during the BDS Referendum in January 2017, the AMS ombudsperson suggested the question of referendum be referred to the court. However, its positions were vacant at this time.
In fact, the student court has not been filled since 2009.
Since then, its duties have been executed by other AMS bodies, such as the Elections Committee and the ombudsperson, and appeals to Council’s decisions can be brought up through a member-at-large statement or a petition. The few remaining functions of the court can be assigned to existing or new AMS bodies, according to the Governance Committee.
One of the key issues is the fact that the AMS Council has the power to overrule any court decisions that they disagree with, which curbs the court’s ability to make significant changes. This occurred in 2008, when council overturned the student court’s decision to remove newly elected VP Academic and University Affairs Alex Lougheed from his position.
Since council basically has final say on all decisions, abolishing the student court would also speed up the bureaucratic decision-making process.
“It’s not really an effective body,” said Ehrenholz. “If we just had potentially Council handling decisions, then it might just make it a little more efficient.”
According to the Governance Committee, the only alternative to abolishing the court would be to reinstate the court’s power to overrule Council’s decisions, which they were able to do for a brief period of time in the 1970s. However, this would mean that the highest point of authority lies with hired students who may not be well versed in AMS protocol, as opposed to elected Council members.
“I think if you look at it, student court was a hired group of law students and we have a council of elected students that represents a much broader range of our students on campus,” said Ehrenholz.
“So I honestly think that Council has a very diverse set of voices because of that.”
While the student court has been rendered useless in the past few years, it was still technically an independent body from the AMS. Currently, whether this sense of autonomy would be preserved for the responsibilities that are delegated to new bodies remains unclear.
“I don’t want to speak on behalf of a proposal that hasn’t been put forward yet,” said Ehrenholz.
Nevertheless, he stressed Governance Committee’s intent on moving forward in the potential abolishment of the court.
“It didn’t always serve students, and it wasn’t always an effective body for our students or for the society,” said Ehrenholz.
This article has been updated to include an additional quote about the composition of student court.