Confederation Report (February 2010)

I had the great joy of meeting an old friend at a dinner party last month. I hadn’t seen her for some years and, after the inevitable small talk about kids - they CAN’T be 25 surely- she dropped in the fact that her new lawyer husband reads Legal News. And wanted to know whether I would be indulging in my regular post Christmas habit of quoting from the books I had received as presents? She added, somewhat archly I felt, that “it must make it easier for you than having to think it up yourself”.

 
Humffff. That predictable eh? This years offerings are “The Ultimate Loo Book” by Mitchell Symons (hereafter ULB (more interesting than the Bible according to the blurb), and “Red Herrings and White Elephants” by Albert Jack (henceforth RHWE (which tells me that the word “Blurb derives from a Miss Belinda Blurb who appeared on the front page of author Gelet Burgess’ 1907 comic book. When asked what the name Belinda Blurb
meant Burgess said “Self praise and making a noise like a Publisher.”)
 
ULB- THE SENILITY PRAYER – God grant me the senility to forget the people I never like anyway, the good fortune to run into those I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.
 
Which leads me on to the first point of this first offering of 2010.
 
I cannot remember how long I have been penning these columns in Legal News, either as your Council Member in Chancery Lane, President of Cardiff or in my current incarnation.
 
I suspect it has to be at least fifteen years, but I may be wrong. Anyhow it’s a long time.
 
ULB- Age is not particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old, all you have to do is live long enough (Groucho Marx).
 
And it has always been a rant about something that I feel is wrong, or a story I think is funny, or some silliness that has tickled me, and what I have wanted to pass on to you.
 
ULB: It is physically impossible for pigs to look up into the sky.
 
This month for instance I shall mostly be ranting about the latest Government U turn, to whit the scrapping of the best value tendering pilots.
 
Hooray!!! We shout. Good sense at last prevails! Ding Dong the witch is dead!
 
But, dear Reader, this is the panto season and Baron Grimm (played to perfection by Lord Bach) is on stage with his big shiny nasty axe! “He’s behind you!”
 
Too late to rush for a Festive Big Mac (for many of us the acme of our Xmas fayre this past Yule) ‘cos he’s gone and cut Jack’s legs off at the knee. (Jack being played by any criminal lawyer still daft enough to be practising).
 
Lord Bach, having realised how nonsensical it was to spend a pot of gold better left with the Giant in Whitehall Palace to guard, decided to do the sensible, if totally undemocratic, thing, and trim the £23 million he was going to cut whatever the pilots produced anyway, with immediate effect. So - much reduced legal aid police station fees in the most, and I quote, “expensive and oversubscribed areas” (everywhere?), no more file review payment. Oh and “consolidated committals”.
 
In real terms then – “For going to the nick in the dead of night, nothing, for ensuring that you do all the things the LSC say you have to do to be able to continue practising, nothing. For reading squillions of pages of committal papers to make sure you don’t get a beasting from the Judge in Crown Court, as little as possible”. For a Government that has just given the poor old bankers £130 BILLION (so that they can buy Ffiona a pony and Hermione a Ferrari for their birthday without dipping into the regular wage) – Priceless.
 
I’ve not met Lord Bach. I assume he is not a “Goodole Taff” nor does he seem to make the beautiful music of his namesake. Just another one of the numerous who are intent on making Justice a mere historical reference. Welcome to Old Mother Hubbard’s Legal Aid Cupboard. Help yourself to a cobweb.
 
ULB – Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys. (P J O’Rourke).
 
The funny story concerns my Christmas Day. Despite being told by all the Duty Dogs down here that there hadn’t been a call out for years…….I was. There were three in fact. All domestics. I didn’t have to go to the third though, because it was the unarrested co-belligerent of the first callee, who had duffed up another member of the family whilst we were at the nick. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men. And I have been tickled by that smooth dude Roberto Mancini, who finds himself at the helm of what Stuart Hall calls “The Theatre of base Comedy” i.e. Man City.
 
I was disgusted at the treatment of Mark “Sparky” Hughes. But to be fair to Mr M, who the City faithful call “Bobby Manc”, his adoption of the white scarf, the turning of said comforter into an Italianate fashion “must have”, and his willingness to attempt press conferences with the piranhas of the sports media, have been most endearing. Oh, it’s not so bad that we are winning a few games too.
 
RHWE-Pie in the sky usually means good idea that is not expected to succeed. It comes from a hymn called Sweet Bye and Bye, which ends – You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.
 
However, it is usually a rant. And it is usually directed at those in power, who consider to have made some ludicrous decision that affects the legal profession in particular, or the public in general.
 
But do you know, that I have never received any complaint about the contents of this now almost “Eastenders” vintage passage of musings.
 
So when our splendid editor, Richard Fisher, telephoned me to say that he was sending me a letter of complaint, and that when I had “cooled down”, he would enclose his response with mine, it was a bit of a shock.
 
ULB – I can take any amount of criticism, so long as its unqualified praise! (Noel Coward)
 
But when I sat down in the middle of a blizzard to read the missive I wasn’t the least offended. I have to tell you that I was rather pleased!
 
I have had, and this is very immodest, loads of letters of support. and encouragement, but no complaints (unless you count the “Solva Supremo”, Andy Owen of Abses threatening to send the Casa Nostra and several Tongs to remove my knee caps with pruning shears in vain attempt to redeem his shattered reputation following my News of the World type exposures about his howlers on the sward in various European matches for the Accies).
 
But this was a genuine and evidently heartfelt grievance. The author isn’t the afore- mentioned embittered and sartorially challenged Andrew Aloysius Aardvark Tarquin Owen Esq, (who, I suspect, secretly enjoys my regular abuse and exacts revenge with that pixie-like smile in various hostelries and changing facilities.)
 
This person seriously feels that I am obviously a staunch opponent of the Labour Party and its leader.
 
When one takes my writing over the past thirteen years as the norm, this would be fair.
 
And the comment that I have been “over personal” in my sarcastic Private Eye satire style has a lot of truth to it. I have been a bit rude about Tony, Gordon, Jack Straw, Mr Prescott etc all.
 
What is obvious, however, is that this person is unaware that a) I was just as beastly to the Conservative Government when they were milking the tax payer, and b) that I have never voted Conservative in my life (Plaid, Liberal and-gasps of amazement- Labour yes. Tory no. But I may in May). And c) I have actually criticised all manner of people, organisations and their decisions. I am proud to have been called “That Bloody Nuisance” by three successive Lord Chancellors (or is that Lords Chancellor?), the first of whom was Lord McKay of Clashfern of whom I wrote (with total plagiarism) comparing him with the famous Aussie cricketer “Slasher” McKay who was prone to rash cuts. He was, I believe, a Tory.
 
I am sorry the complainant feels this way, I am sorry they are upset. But I am not apologising for exercising my right to say what I think about stupid policies and decisions, that cause immense problems to the Legal Profession and to the country as a whole. Nor about attacking politicians who choose to be in the public eye and are accountable for what they do. They are well enough remunerated don’t you think? As to being partisan, yes, I am unashamedly partisan towards the legal profession. And against any one who seeks to ruin the finest justice system on the planet.
 
And I am pleased that I have provoked a response. I am happy that someone feels strongly enough to say this column is a lot of tosh. What is the saying? “I disagree entirely with your opinion, but I will fight to the death to uphold your right to express it!”
 
ULB- Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others (Groucho Marx).
 
A brief piece of sadness…….the loss of Russel Jenkins a former senior partner of Hugh James. Russel was a fabulous character. He actually was a heavily involved Criminal Litigator when I first went to the old Cardiff Mags Court. He was for many years the Administrator of the voluntary Duty Solicitor Scheme, over which he presided with massive good humour and benevolence. I had many happy “Advocacy Fridays” in Trattoria Pulcinella
( Luciano’s as it then was) with him.
 
Despite his senior status, he joined in with that lovely period when the advocates of Cardiff were able to be characters. He often provided the inappropriate words that we would try to insert into our speeches and was always willing to advise and direct young lawyers.
 
He was a Cardiff and District Council Member for many years and President in 1998. A truly delightful person. I, and many others will miss him a lot. My sympathy to his lovely wife and children.
 
Also passed is Ian Unsworth. Ian was a qualified electrician, who became fascinated by the law, and actually did his articles with me. He didn’t have an easy life, and died after a long illness.
 
There has been some debate about the Confederation. In fact criticism that maybe we should be doing more to develop and expand.
 
Well, we are planning to keep membership for individuals free, to take some of our courses “on the road” so that some more rural areas can save on travelling. We would also love to see a volunteer to take over the Equal Opportunity Secretary post, now that the incomparable Eleanor Williams has been elevated to bigger things.
 
As I tried to explain to one critic-this really is not a good time to make heavy financial investments. It is clear that as a profession we are in the mire.
The recession has meant that houses aren’t selling. Insurance Companies are reducing panels. Big firms are trawling to survive. Legal Aid is being further cut.
 
People are nervous, and don’t have time, or money to spend on albeit exciting concepts.
 
I would love to be able to provide an office for the people of South Wales to come to, with trainees to take initial instructions, and then for the cases to be sent out to members. To have a library and video conferencing facilities for our members. To provide cheap accommodation to enable those who have downsized to have an occasional professional base. To have pastoral care and defence services to fight the corner of the solicitor against the tide of Regulation and administrative burden.
 
Even to open our own Property Shop.
 
But we simply do not have the wherewithal at present.
 
So we shall just have to keep chipping away at improvement, and continue to provide reasonably priced courses, some social gatherings, and any practical help we can.
 
ULB-Anagram – To be or not to be, that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune….is an anagram of…In one of the Bards best thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.
 
Until next time, if we are spared, Pob Hwyl
 

Mumf

 

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