In previous letters I have been able to report on a Buckingham Palace garden party and the opening of the legal year at Westminster Abbey. In my last few months my only brush with the higher echelons of the legal world came in the course of work; a day at the Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) in a Judicial review case.
The case concerned my clients opposing the closure of a Primary School in Cardiff. The parties had an all Welsh panel of QC’s and a Welsh judge. The case concerned interpretation of Guidance in the devolved world of Welsh education. Is this a precursor of separate Welsh jurisdiction. At least it meant there wasn’t mispronunciation of the school name (EglwysNewydd). The judge ruled that the Welsh Minister had approached his decision to close the school in an irrational and unreasonable way but refused to quash the decision; not surprisingly we are appealing. All this was carried out in the context of a most unequal battle; a group of parents against the might of the two of the biggest legal department is Wales, the Welsh Government and Cardiff Council. We were backed by Legal Aid but that of course is under threat for the future. I have some sympathy for public bodies facing spurious and indulgent challenges but – as can be seen from the court’s comments – this was not the case with Eglwys Newydd and public bodies must be subject to such challenges from time to time. We must continue to fight for legal aid, otherwise society will be the poorer.
I would hope that every lawyer might have the opportunity to attend the RCJ. It is a scary and awe inspiring place. You make your way up the steps past camera crews awaiting the day’s big case. You go through the airport style security into a cathedral- like area with 20ft pictures of austere eighteenth century judges on the walls. Your case can be heard in one of more than 70 courts so you wander off into the ultimate legal rabbet warren. It appears that little has changed at the RCJ from the days of Garrows law. On the surface, Garrow would probably recognize the scene. But the reality is that the profession changes month by month and within the next 12 months there will be seismic changes and a number of battles to fight.
One such battle is a local one; the move to issue court proceedings out of Salford County Court. Just before Christmas I was quoted in the Western Mail as saying this move was “crazy”. Almost as surprised was the Welsh Government who, like Welsh solicitors, were not asked for a view. Having to send proceedings to Salford adds more complexity and stress to what can already be a stressful process of issuing proceedings (especially when you are close to limitation). What impacts on the profession impacts on the service we provide to clients. Moreover, it seems a strange move in the context of a devolved nation such as Wales. Just as the country receives more law making powers the ability to litigate in Wales is taken away. Then there is the Welsh language issue – how are the good people in the Salford County Court going to be able to process proceedings and phone calls in the Welsh language? I have written to the court calling on them to reconsider and to consult – I feel another Judicial Review brewing!
Meanwhile, ironically, the Welsh Government has launched a consultation on a separate Welsh Jurisdiction. I would be interested to hear the thoughts of the readership on this. Personally I am not sure we will move to an entirely separate legal system but as the Assembly passes more law, more guidance, there will develop a distinct and substantial body of law – my Judicial Review case being a good example. We will probably need distinct court procedures to deal with these along with special judges, court staff, barristers and solicitors. It struck me recently when watching the national news on TV that there are times when large chunks of it has no relevance to Wales. The other day the news was dominated by English NHS reform and Academy schools, none of it applicable to Wales. Meanwhile the Jackson reforms continue, there is LASPO and the first ABS is with us. As I write this letter I receive news that my old firm RJW has been bought by Australians – strewth! Change never stops. Every month seems to bring something new. Some need to be contested, some embraced. What one cannot do is ignore it.
Finally. am pleased to report that the Cardiff & District Law Society held its first member’s forum at the end of January. This is to be a regular legal update for members. I am grateful to Civitas Chambers for starting the ball rolling on Personal Injury. We intend to cover a full range of legal topics as the year goes by. This is a new and valuable benefit for members and I hope people will take advantage of it and take up their membership of the Cardiff & District Law Society this year.
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