Confederation Report (July 2011)

I’ve been doing my legal advice spot on Radio Pembrokeshire for over three and a half years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how very diverse the questions are.  Much more complicated than when I did the BBC slot.

Last week for instance I was asked via email why Bin Laden’s demise at the hands of the US Special Forces wasn’t murder, why the CPS didn’t prosecute the Met Officer for the death of the newspaper seller Mr Tomlinson and what legal remedy was there to curtail the overly loud grunting of a neighbour’s pig.

You will be heartened to hear that I will NOT be discussing such rich fare in these pages. (other than to tell you of my mightily witty riposte that the end of Osama Bin Laden might mean the President of the USA may be seen as Obama Sin Laden. No, it didn’t get a rapturous laugh from the listeners either except from the Latin scholars amongst them!).

However the one topic that received bags of attention was the so-called “Super Injunction”. Human beings do love a bit of juicy gossip don’t they? I was inevitably asked whether in my thirty years as a Solicitor I have been involved in one. To which, incredibly for a criminal hack, was yes.

Back when I was an articled clerk working for Layton Lougher and Co in St Mary Street (above the much lamented Albert pub and Brains Brewery – Ahhhh the smell of the hops on a Tuesday!) Layton had a particularly famous bunch of celebs as clients one of whom wanted what was then called a “Gagging Order” to prevent their exposure as a bit of a sexual bon viveur.

Layton’s view was simple. If what was done was done in private and was not illegal, it was nobody else’s business. And the court agreed. Injunction awarded. Didn’t help the applicant much, as within a short space of time they were banged up for corruption and everything and its dog came into the open.

The thing is, nowadays what is in the Public Interest is much more difficult to determine. Miss Wales having an affair with a footballer then, probably wouldn’t have attracted much attention, football not being as popular as now.

But the key think today, is that it is not just the tabloids that give access to such juicy morsels. Emails, Text, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter all of these allow for instant communication about everything from extra-marital affairs to what Stephen Fry had for his breakfast.

And of course what is gagged here, is open for public consumption abroad. And even they have a morbid fascination for what Premier League Footballers and contestants of “I’m an X-Factor, Big Brother, Dancing on Ice whose never been heard of, Get me out of here”. What amazes me is why these self publicists who crave the publicity, think they can shut it off when it’s something they don’t want the world to know. David Walliams is alleged to have said last week “NO MEDIA” when he was attending some launch of a book. What did he think was going to occur?

And think of poor old Mr Huhne, whose estranged wife is happily going to put the boot in about his allegedly asking her to take his speeding points. “The truth that makes men free, is the truth which men prefer not to hear” as Agar said. Certainly I should think that Mr H is raiding his piggy bank to sweeten the divorce and avoid Mrs H deep sixing his political career. Is it not time we had a Privacy Act, which laid down in black and white what is and isn’t allowed?

Because as it stands I don’t give much hope to the continuing willingness of courts to grant these orders. The European Court has given its view by kicking Max “What occurred in that dungeon is between me and those five young ladies” Moseley precisely where those young ladies were aiming their leather implements. So a Privacy Act would make sense.

I write in the third week of May. May is always a busy, fussy month for me, partly because a lot of my family (including me) have birthdays in May (which begs the question about what happens in September that makes my clan so fruitful). But it is also usually a month of dinners (Legal, Sporting and Anniversaries). And I always seem to have weird or horrible cases coming in.

Usually it’s a month of sporting disappointment for me. The clubs that I support or play for have normally done pretty dismally. This year, however, it is a month of huge delight. Narberth came second in Division 1 West in rugby, Glamorgan (after the debacle over the winter with its self immolation) have actually won some games, Cardiff Accies came 5th in the league and reached a cup final. And, wonder of wonders, Manchester City have won the FA Cup! (I have a confession to make after the semi-final win, I planted my garden entirely with blue and white flowers. Sad, I know.)

To add to the pleasure, my sons, now in their twenties, living and actually earning a living! in London, got me a ticket! Gwilym, the elder, is now a freelance journalist with the Guardian (the paper not the unloved organ of our controlling body), whilst Owain is working as a parliamentary assistant to an MP.

They now have influential mates, so May 14th saw your scribe making his way down to Wembley Way, for the first time in thirty years, with my scarf wrapped around my neck. That we won, that the two sets of supporters were friendly with no trouble at all, and I wasn’t even aware that Man Utd had clinched the title until about 8 in the evening was a real bonus.

The only thing that bugged me was the fact that the whole thing was so orchestrated by the FA, not only by staging the showpiece as a Premier League sandwich, charging the earth for everything, but also bombarding the fans with incessant adverts and musical accompaniments we didn’t need.

City, with their gallows sense of humour (honed by years of mediocrity), have some of the funniest and wittiest songs in football. “We are not really here... Like the fans of the invisible man…” “U-N-I-T-E-D that spells massive debt to me, with a nick nack paddywack, give a Red a loan, Ocean Finance on the phone…” (and others too rude to print), but the PA system belted out Queen’s “We are the Champions” and the like, even playing some odd jazz version of “Blue Moon”, which was unsingable, for the whole post-match celebration.

So we were forced to go to the pub to complete the process. It was hell, but it had to be done!

It annoyed me as such as some of the crass adverts we have to put up wit on a daily basis. Apart from the ones I simply don’t comprehend, being a dinosaur and a luddite, there are which simply rankle- “The Co-op, Gudd with Fudd” for instance. It does not rhyme unless you are a Glaswegian, in which case, according to statistics, the local healthy eating option is a deep fried Mars bar, Haggis in Batter and a tin of Tennents Extra.

Our society is so influenced by the US. When you read that some “Think-tank” has pontificated that the Misuse of Drugs Act (now in its fortieth year) is outdated and should be replaced using, and I quote, “consumer protection legislation”, it makes the mind boggle. Not because it is not a good idea to possibly license some drugs, but because it is highly likely to lead to a new industry, which law plays little part in. Sorry, you can’t decriminalise serious drugs by switching off a light bulb. There has to be a balance. Treatment and Education have a larger part to play, surely. The idea that Meow-Meow being ok for sale will not lead to folk moving on to harder substances and possibly wrecking their health, is frankly, absurd.

There is an argument that you can’t be a profession if you advertise. I think that has long been put away.

But advertising is a pretty fraught activity, especially when the product is marketed internationally - Coca Cola in Chinese translates as “bite the wax tadpole”, and the Bacardi fruit drink in German comes out as “Baboon Juice”.

Even in the same language it can be tricky – e.g. “Our Bikinis are exciting – they are simply the tops”, and “Try our herbal remedies – you can’t get better!” – or “Wasps nest destroyed for £20.00. OAP’s £15”. Imagine the horrors that we less than worldly lawyers could think up.

I must congratulate the outgoing President of Cardiff Law Society, my old friend Peter Davies, not only for his highly successful year in office, but also for a brilliant Annual Dinner.

I worked out that this way my 29th Dinner. Not all, I have to say, have been graced with inspiring speeches. Some have been a mite lengthy (who will forget the Lord Chancellor droning on for almost two hours. I can’t remember what he was talking about. I can’t even remember which one he was, come to that!)

This year the speeches were amusing, relevant, and brief. Sir John Griffith Williams was magnificent and dignified, Owen Money was hilarious and Peter was excellent in every way.

It was wonderful to see some old friends – Judge Graham Jones, such a great jurist and a worthy recipient of the first “Lifetime Achievement Award”. The new Resident District Judge for Cardiff, Bodfan Jenkins, was also there. Bodfan is also an old friend. I think it would be fair to say that over the years he has fought the Solicitors’ corner against cuts harder than anyone. I was sad that I missed him when he had a week sitting in Haverfordwest.

Richard Fisher and his trusty assistant Mike Walkers performed their usual organisational miracles, and a good time was had by all.

I leave with a joke. Two nuns are on a driving holiday in Transylvania. Dracula lands on the bonnet of their car. “Quick”, says one nun to the other, “Show him your cross”

The other nun leaps from the car and screams, “Get off the car you filthy beast, or I’ll punch your lights out!”

Until next time

Mumf

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