President's Letter (April 2012)

 

It’s that time of year again- the Cardiff and District
Law Society (CDLS) Annual Dinner, as usual, at the City Hall, on Friday the 27th April.

Surely the legal and social highlight of your year. For the President it’s the nerve wracking finale to a year in office that speeds by. We are very privileged to have as our star speaker the First Minister, Carwyn Jones. A bit of a change I am sure you agree from Owen Money. Carwyn was a practicing barrister in our local courts until politics claimed him full time; he was also of course Counsel General for a number of years before taking up the top job. He is a clever and funny speaker. I only hope there is no national emergency that week which calls him away. Fingers crossed for a slow news week.

When I first went to a CDLS dinner many years ago I remember sitting patiently through the long tedious speeches thinking that eventually I will have a chance of a burn off my meal when the disco starts, only to find that when the speeches finished at some time well past 11pm, that was it! You have my guarantee that the speeches will not be lengthy and hopefully not tedious. Music will be provided by the Beatles – or rather a very good Beatles tribute band that I came across at the Legal Executives Ball last year and booked on the spot. Surely everyone likes the Beatles? One of my teen age daughters, who is very into the current music scene, constantly tells me how great Katy Perry and Jesse J are, (I know that at this point I am beginning to sound about as in touch with modern culture as the proverbial High Court judge) but recently when a teacher asked her to name her favorite pop bands she placed the Beatles second behind One Direction. She of course has heard the Beatles many times on my car CD player when being chauffeured back and fore to activities. Unfortunately – or some may say fortunately – she doesn’t share my taste for late 1970’s Punk Rock music so there was never any chance of a Sex Pistols or Clash tribute band at the Dinner - maybe one day.

Early in March I was called upon by the Law Society Wales Office to give evidence to the National Assembly Constitutional committee about the need, or not, for a separate Wales jurisdiction. I was told it was a great honour, so why did I feel like a condemned man before a firing squad? You descend into the bowels of the Senedd and are ushered into a windowless committee room to be grilled by AM’s. The public gallery was not exactly packed but there were some people looking on – did any of them have a concealed custard pie? Thankfully not. The Liberal member of the committee did not deign to attend but the Conservative chairman - David Meldling – was quite likeable (for a Conservative!) and his Labour and Plaid colleagues were paragons of civility. They would occasionally try to bamboozle me by switching without warning from English to Welsh and back again. This would cause me to scramble for the head phones with the simultaneous translation. Why oh why did I drop Welsh after Form 2 (Year 8 in today’s school language), if I had kept it up I wouldn’t have looked quite so inept.

The key point I tried to get across – and I was told to make sure everyone knew this was a purely personal opinion – is that there is already a substantial body of Welsh law, not just in statute but in Guidance and in Regulations. I don’t think we need to countenance a wholly separate system of civil law but it is surely right that cases with a significant Welsh context should ideally be heard in Wales, before Welsh judges, and run by barristers and lawyers who know their way around Welsh law. I would have thought that could be achieved without rewriting the constitution. For example, we have Practice Directions pushing commercial disputes into the Mercantile Courts, before specialist Mercantile Judges. Why not a similar Practice Direction for cases turning on distinct Welsh Law.

One thing we were all agreed upon was the need for the developing canon of Welsh law to be codified in one place, a sort of Halsburys Law Statutes for Wales, with notes and annotations. The need for this is now acute. Such a tome is not attractive to the commercial publishers so the National Assembly will have to take the lead. It cannot come quickly enough.

Finally, a reminder to those who have not yet paid their membership fee for the CDLS, please do so. It’s a snip at £50. We are one of the few truly active local law societies in Wales. Our members’ only educational forums have so far proved a great success and we hope to carry these on, once a month, through the year. They are of course “for members” but non-members can come along as long as they are looking to join shortly thereafter. It’s the CDLS AGM on May 17th, so anyone who wishes to play an active role and replace old duffers such as myself are more than welcome to express an interest and come along.

Michael Imperato
michael.imperato@new-law.co.uk

 

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