Confederation Report (December 2010)

The knotty problem of tissues is vexing me this edition, Dear Reader.  Not just their proper pronunciation (is it TISHUES or Tis-use?), but their location.  For as I write, I have “bought the shop”, in terms of being poorly-sick.  Sneezing, coughing, wheezing, croaking with a voice that sounds like Louis Armstrong sings Jedward – yes I have MAN-FLU!!! Well, actually, because I have an ear infection as well, and the doctor has actually given me antibiotics, I can claim some medical legitimacy.  As a result of my malady I missed the West Wales Law Society AGM, which I bitterly regret.  I hope my apologies were received.  I shall do better next year!

This is not a mewling plea for sympathy.  By the time you read this, I shall either have recovered fully, and be anticipating the Yuletide festivities with all the relish of Ed and David Millibands’ mum (“Could you ask my Honourable friend to pass me the brandy-butter Mother Dear?”).  Or I will have become an Urn-Dweller at the Narbeth Crematorium.  (The first manager when it opened in the sixties was a gentleman called Smith, so immediately became “Smith the Scorch” – Welsh humour at its finest!).

The one day this week that I have had to venture into Haverfordwest Mags Court, saw a miserable and feeble bit of advocacy from yours truly (I know – what’s new?), Beaks who couldn’t understand one word in five (and it put me in mind of dear old Howell James the Cardiff Prosecutor, who spoke so quickly, and with such a gravelly thick Welsh accent, that he often addressed them as “Yorrrrrr Paaarsnips”, with no-one noticing), and a sentence that had everything to do with Their Worships’ sympathy and a desire to be rid of a disease ridden plaque spreader, rather than cogent mitigation.

And the thorny issue of medicines has also raised its ugly head.

The frenzied search for Strepsils, Halls Soothers and Beechams powders in what laughingly passes for my medicine cabinet (in actuality a faux leather box of dubious antiquity, that sits broodingly in the darkest corner of the bathroom, and has for several decades) unearthed only a well squeezed tube of Deep Heat, and a crepe bandage.

The befuddled memory that there were some medicaments stashed in the kitchen cupboard, with the accompanying raised expectation of salivation, was sadly dashed when the frantic rummage (hurling away boxes of sweeteners, one Lipton’s Green-Tea bag, a pot of Romanian pate(!) and two rabbit shaped Bakelite jelly moulds in the desperate process) produced a fifth of a bottle of Benalin, two aspirins and a Boots Nicotine Patch, all from about 1999.

When I did find a throat lozenge, it had long since transformed itself from a bullet like comforting pain reliever to the type of alien shapeless gooey thing found in a Dalek – and equally impossible to remove from its wrapper.  I considered a hot toddy, but since whisky makes me retch, and my suffering was already at point nine of the Richter Scale, I settled for a cup of tea.  A warm glass of New Zealand Sauv Blanc with honey did not appeal.  And even with my renowned disdain for “Use by” dates I didn’t fancy taking a risk with any of my pharmaceutical finds, some of which, I suspect, pre-dated Dr Flemings invention of penicillin.

Now to the point of this ramble, it is that the Legal Profession is in the same position as I was at half past to on that wet and miserable November morning.

In the same way as I had blithely motored along, in the deluded belief that there was, somewhere in my home, the means to cure or alleviate an unwanted, but to be anticipated, episode of mild ill-health, so we now find ourselves casting about for a solution to be Armageddon of the swathing cuts imposed by Mr Osborne.

It is not dissimilar to all oppressed peoples through history-they all thought the tyranny would pass, but it seldom did.

And I fear that “Crystal Nacht” has finally caught up with us.

The news of so many cuts to the Legal  Aid system that are happening, and on a scale we feared, but could not believe would be real, and the fact that more will come, is a body blow.  The hopes of liberal Liberals, so warming in May, now becomes a chill memory in November!

Many friends and colleagues have already decided to get out of law.

And many have asked me “What can I do-this is my career! I am qualified in nothing else!”

Others have said that the Law Society should have anticipated this, and a) either fought harder for us against the various Governments and their policies or b) have set in place an alternative scheme to provide employment for its members with this horror in mind.

Well, to be fair to our governing body (admittedly not something I oft propound) this was a bit like Alfred and Canute trying to unburn the cakes or turn back the tide (I can never remember which did which).  This was like attempting to stop a steam roller with a speed hump fashioned from playdough.

As to other employment, I fear that we are the victims of our own high standards.  It takes so long to get onto the Solicitors Roll, and after that so long to actually make it a financially viable career, that skipping into something else is very hard.

And the view of so many that they should not have to do anything else is also understandable.

So.  Blacksmiths. And Thatchers. Dry-stone-wall-builders.  These are all arts/crafts/trades that have gone from “vital to our society”  to specialised tiny areas”.  Is this what criminal, family and immigration (in fact Public) lawyers are destined to become?

Its like some Ealing Studio offering from the 1950’s –“ Passport to Pimlico” or some such, where the Margaret Rutherford character asks the local yokel where she can find a Cordwangler-“ Ooo Arrr M’Dear, You’m be wantin’ Old Mumford the Aaadvercate.  Lives over yonder in Tumbletown Hovel by the Old Burned Down Court House.  Not done a case fer nigh on twenty years, but ‘im still tells a good old tale of the times when a man could get legal aid fer doin away with ‘is missus!”

Thus-Reasons to be of Good Cheer Number One: We are a potential Cottage Industry!

It all reminds me of a true story involving my good friend Geraint Richards of Prowels Solicitors.  They were Hallinan Blackburn and Gittings then.

He was somewhere in one of the valley courts (when there were valley courts in profusion).  He applied for Legal Aid on the day of the trial, having only been instructed the day before.  It was quite a serious charge, imprisonment was a possibility, yet his application was refused.  In those days the Clerk to the Court, or the Chairman of the Bench, were prone to such rare draconian refusals on occasion.  (Rather than now when the LSC in Liverpool or wherever do so on a permanent basis.)

When Geraint didn’t move, the Magistrate said “I thought you weren’t going to work without payment Mr Richards?”  To which Geraint replied “I’ve decided to conduct this case in my leisure time, Your Worship!”

Are we to be “Hobby Lawyers”?  Or are we to be like so many of the London “Baby Barristers”, doing a full morning’s Magistrates Court list for free, hoping that those few, if any, that go to the Crown Court will lead to their being briefed? Or taking cases without fees, in the hope of winning and getting costs from Central Funds.  Is it coming to the time when the joke about actors becomes one about lawyers – What are the first words a lawyer says when he gets to work?  “Would you like fries with that?

Seriously, I am not sure that our country, ANY country, can exist and function without a legal system that caters for both sides of the coin.  Going back to the days when suspects at police stations were unrepresented, where parties to custody disputes and complex immigration issues acted as litigants in person, can only lead to miscarriages of justice.  And to very long and more expensive hearings!

I have been hoping that common sense and civilised systems would prevail for several decades now.  Perhaps I should realise that my future lies in waste paper – I shall tour the closed offices of once excellent firm of Solicitors, shred their files, and retrieve Kleenex for the custom of cold sufferers everywhere!  Or become a barman at the Betty Ford Clinic.  Blue Sky Thinking perchance.

On the Confederation front, we have had our Autumn Updates Courses, and I hope those of you who attended enjoyed them.  Numbers were slightly down this year-possibly due to the proliferation of rival courses at the same time but ours, I believe, offered good value.

It was for me, and I suspect others, a delight to see and hear Their Honours Judge Gibbon and Prosser.  They regaled us with some lovely takes of their careers, as well as educating us, at the Criminal Update.

HH Judge John Curran produced his usual wizardry, ensuring that the assembled now know SOME recent case law.  The lovely Hilary Williams delivered the bad news from the LSC - Competitive tendering to rise Phoenix like from the ashes in the New Year, Got Rot it!  (Not your fault Hilary thanks for being such a nice harbinger of doom!) Wayne Williams was similarly charming, but with a similar gloomy prognosis for our branch of practice.  Basically “Get Big, Get Busy, or Get Out!”

Tom Atherton showed us some pictures of American Gangsters, and gave us a glimpse of the future of serious crime.  Marian Lewis (who just doesn’t age) taught us about Bad Character (no – not me the applications), and another old friend Chris Lewis gave us a message of hope about Crown Court and Advanced Magistrates Court Practice.

To them all, our best wishes and thanks.

And so, another year comes to a close.  I shall try to end on a merry and festive note.

Dai returns to his Cardigan home for Christmas, after twenty years working in London.  He goes to his local on Christmas Eve to find that a pint of beer is only 50p.

That’s cheap,” he says to the landlord “You’d never get a pint for 50p, in London”

“Well,” says the landlord “Locals would never pay more in Cardiganshire.”

Dai spots a friend from his schooldays sitting in the corner, but without a drink.

“Sh’mai lento! Nadolig Llawen.  But why aren’t you drinking when the price is so low?”

“Waiting for Happy Hour, Bach!”

And finally, you can tell the four ages of life at Christmas.  You believe in Father Christmas; you stop believing in Father Christmas; you dress up like Father Christmas; you look like Father Christmas!

A very Happy Christmas to you all, and a prosperous New Year!

Mumf

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