April Report

ORAL REPORT OF THE WALES COMMITTEE TO COUNCIL - 2 APRIL 2014

Thank you president.

Colleagues, it is an honour to stand before you to present the first report of the Wales committee to the council of the Law Society of Wales and England, and to do so here in Cardiff, my hometown and the capital city of Wales.

My written report was circulated with the council papers.  You also have a document which explains current issues affecting devolution in Wales.  It contains a factsheet on the profession in Wales.  I shan’t read it out as I know that all of you read your papers assiduously before meetings and you will take away and study on your way home the paper we have just distributed.  But I want to pick up on a couple of points which arise.

There are differences between the Wales committee and the other LAPB law reform committees.  The Wales committee is the only committee with a geographic reference and it meets in Wales, not Chancery Lane.  It is the only law reform committee which is preoccupied with constitutional issues - devolution is a constitutional issue.  The committee liaises with the Wales Office in the delivery of services to members - so its activities overlap with the domain of the Membership Board, though the committee is answerable to the Legal Affairs and Policy Board. 

The committee relies on whatever statistical information about the profession in Wales it can get to keep track of the needs of practitioners in Wales.  We value the work done by Nina Fletcher and her Research Unit.  Gathering statistics about the profession (in Wales, as in England and Wales) while it undergoes tumultuous change is a valuable foundation for understanding the concerns of the profession, developing the products it needs, predicting its future and developing policies to steer it into that future.  It is also useful to have current information about the profession at hand when lobbying the Welsh Government and MPs.   

Since the Wales Office can seem remote from the Society’s Chancery Lane orientation, the committee has worked hard to manage liaison and coherence between the two.  That is why we invite and encourage staff from Chancery Lane and members of the LAPB to attend our meetings.  This is particularly important in matters of policy in which both Westminster and Cardiff Bay may be creating new law.  This is why we pushed for ring-fenced places for members with knowledge of the law and practice in Wales for certain law reform committees.  Incredibly, it took a year and a half before this was agreed by LAPB and my fellow committee chairs played a crucial role in this.

Currently Glyn Maddocks, a former council member who features in this week’s Gazette sits on the Human Rights committee, Rhiannon Price is a member of the Housing law committee, Huw Williams and Tim Morgan are members of the Planning and Environmental Law committee, Julie Burton and Meinir Evans sit on the Mental Health and Disability committee and Dylan Jones sits on the Children Law sub-committee.  There are places to fill on the access to justice committee, civil justice committee, conveyancing and land law committee and family law committee.  I hope they can be filled in the current recruitment round.  It is sensible to ask the Wales Office to advertise committee vacancies in Wales since the Wales office has developed an excellent relationship with the profession in Wales.  I believe that the Law Society’s message to criminal legal aid practitioners in Wales would have carried more credibility had it been delivered by a criminal practitioner who is a member of the access to justice committee rather than a university lecturer who teaches civil litigation.  The Wales Office and Wales committee will continue to do all we can to encourage practitioners from Wales to engage more with the Society and apply to join its committees.  

Representation from Wales on LAPB committees should be kept under review.  If the Wales Bill which is before Parliament becomes law and the National Assembly is given limited powers to raise taxes, there will be a case for Welsh representation on the tax committee.  If policing and youth justice are devolved to Wales, there will be a strong case for Welsh representation on the criminal law committee.

There is a case for saying that education and training, which falls within the ambit of the Regulatory Affairs Board, and which is a devolved area of law, should have a ring-fenced place for a member from Wales.  When the lead researcher for the Legal Education and Training Review attended a RAB education and training committee meeting in 2011 he had no idea that the student fees and loan system which applies in England does not apply to university students from Wales.  It may have been as a result of that meeting that I was asked to address the LETR on Welsh issues in June 2012.

The problem is that far too many lawyers, including academic lawyers like Professor Julian Webb, continue to assume that the law to which they are subject governs the entire jurisdiction.  It does not, necessarily.  That is why the Wales committee fought for the statement of territorial application.  The differences between the law in Wales and the law in England can best be expressed by the slogan: One Jurisdiction, Two Countries, Three Strands of Law.  Each strand of law should be respected equally - the rule of law requires that.  So for as long as I remain on council, I, and I am sure fellow members of the Wales committee too, will stand up to object whenever “the law of England” is used as a synonym or shorthand for the law of England and Wales.  This may annoy you but it is my job to do so.  I can assure you that I am more annoyed at having to make these corrections during meetings than you are by hearing me do so.

I’d like to conclude by asking you to think of Simon Mumford, my predecessor on council and my friend, who lies gravely ill.  He spent 9 years entertaining and infuriating council and serving his constituents from 1997 - 2006.  He is a remarkably generous man who is larger than life and it is hard to think of him as being ill.

Finally, I thank the Law Society for giving me the opportunity to serve the profession as chair of the Wales committee.  I stood for DVP last year but didn’t want the job and didn’t want to be president, either.  I stood to raise the profile of Wales within council.  The office within the Law Society I have wanted is the post I currently hold - chair of the Wales committee - and I am sorry that I have to stand down later this year.

Thank you.  If you have any questions, please speak up as I have poor hearing.  Please do not ask me any questions in Welsh!

David Dixon

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