Confedration Report (February 2009)

Now here’s a funny thing (as the music hall comic Max Miller would say.) As those of you unfortunate enough actually to read these regular rants from the “Dark Side” will know, I have been whingeing and whining for many years about the over-regulation imposed upon the Solicitors’ Profession, and in every area of practice.

Well today, I am actually going to encourage you criminal advocates (if there are any of you left!) to take part in a pilot scheme being run by Cardiff University’s Professional Development Unit, which may very well lead to a rolled out scheme with a classification of grades of Advocate from One (being Magistrates’ Courts) to Four (being basically QC’s). This is a Legal Services Commission/Ministry of Justice initiative, and, through the hard work of Angela Devereux (Head of the Cardiff PDU) - the pilot will be run from here in Cardiff – although of course other areas, even in England, will be assessed as well.

“Has he gone bonkers? I hear you cry. Not completely - and I’ll tell you why. If this scheme comes in, and there is every chance it will, we need to have results that will lead to Solicitors having grades that allow us to compete and survive in this not so brave and horribly new world.

If the pilot is successful and accepted by the profession, the grading will apply to the Bar as well, and will have a multi-pathed admission system. For instance someone who is an accredited Duty Solicitor could be exempted from the need to be assessed and examined in full at Level 1. If they have the higher courts qualification, they could automatically tick that box and have Level 2; and so on up to the top grade.

If they are not exempt, they will have to go through an accreditation scheme. But just what that scheme is will depend very much on what is discovered from the pilot – and this is where you come in. The more information that the Cardiff team can gather by people like you being prepared to be assessed in the pilot, the greater chance that any rolled out scheme can be as light touch as possible.

The scheme could, in all probability, replace the Higher Courts Qualification and will run parallel to the other accreditation schemes within Criminal Litigation. And since, as I write, there are already nine Institute of Legal Executives members who have been awarded rights of audience in the Magistrates Court, the need to get this right, so that the system is fair and appropriate is obvious. Since the wolf is at the door, I’m of the view that the acquisition of a big machine gun is better than sticking our collective heads into the shifting sand beneath our feet, and mumbling “Go away nasty beast!” We have actually tried that before a few times and it hasn’t worked terribly well.

And there are some definite pluses to taking part in this pilot:

1. You could (subject to SRA approval) get a year’s CPD hours for taking part – that’s worth a few bob in course fees!
2. If you excel it may mean that you get a “passport” to the grade you pass in the pilot (and even if you don’t you will know exactly what is coming);
3. If you don’t pass, it does not mean anyone will ever know, confidentiality being guaranteed – and that includes whether you even participate. People will only know if you tell them.
4. YOU may have made a difference to the standard expected, the numbers of your fellows being given passports to grades they might not otherwise automatically have been granted.

There are varying numbers required for the various grades, and the assessments will take place over the next four months. There will be an exam, a portfolio of cases done by you, and a test of advocacy, additionally (in some grades) a written submission as well as a verbal test. For the higher grades an evaluation during a live case by a judge (this latter will not be fatal if failed, but is more a “fail-safe” test to monitor, for want of a better expression, quality control of both the testing and the value of judge evaluation.)

The eventual scheme will have fewer elements – but exactly which elements will depend on what is discovered in the pilot about the respective indicative values of each.

The pilot will determine the standards required, both for “passporting” to the higher grades, and, more importantly who will have to start right at the bottom. If we have a half-hearted and lukewarm response from “our lot” we may find ourselves as the “Boot” in “Whitechapel”, rather than the “Top Hat” on the “Strand”. (I do hope that that was a decent Monopoly analogy-haven’t played it since I was twelve!

If you are interested, and I urge you all to think about it, you have to register “an expression of interest” with the LSC by contacting Grazia Trivedi LSC, 4 Abbey Orchard Street, London SW1P 2BS or DX328 London. Or you can contact us at the Confederation, through Mike Walters, and we will pass it on for you.

Please bear in mind, that the Bar and ILEX are fully committed to this and are, as I understand it, volunteering in droves. Don’t let us Sols be left behind.

I know this is all a bit “Lord Kitchener poster” from the First Unpleasantness (and if it amuses you to imagine your humble correspondent in an army hat and with a big bush moustache, with his spindly finger pointing at you, then I’m fine with that), but I really think that this is vitally important for the future of the Solicitor’s Profession.

Lecture over. Back to more normal service.

I suspect, like many others, I have been troubled by the “nick-name” scandal involving the Royals. I support the Monarchy as a system (blimey, do you want a “George Dubya” as head of state?) and I admire quite a few of the Royal Family as people.

I also feel sympathy for the fact that they live in a media “goldfish bowl” and that any step out of political correctness, is pounced on. Having said that, Old Prince Phillip is a source of wonder when it comes to tact. Glad he chose the Navy, not the Diplomatic Corps in 1937! He could go to the Antarctic on a jolly and offend penguins! [Imagine –”Whets all theeees everybody peeps-dwarf butlers with clown’s shoes eh?”]

But that’s it isn’t it? He is from the generation that, for better or for worse, had the upbringing that almost encouraged it. Let’s face it Alf Garnett would be howled down if it went on to our screens today.

And, to be fair, Young Harry was caught on film at a time when he had only just left school, and was hardly versed in the social skills required to address the UN. It obviously was not meant for public consumption, and indeed was, it would seem, meant affectionately. [I did rather enjoy his spoof phone call to his Grandma, ending with “All the best Nan. Keep Happy and Glorious then!”]

And then Charlie having as his pet name for a close Asian friend, the title of a certain glove puppet operated by Harry Corbett with a girlfriend called Sue, who hung around with a dog who was named after the activity of vertical smoke product removal and sanitation. [Not having me mate - PC Pure me!]

And this is where it gets so difficult. I, when dong missionary work beyond Offa’s Dyke, am often called “Taff”. If I’m honest, I rather like it. I am Welsh and proud of it. I know friends who feel the same way about being called Paddy, Jock Geordie and Ozzie.

There’s the rub. It’s the recipient that has to call the shots. There was a very intelligent Black Lady, who said she was far more offended by having her weight or age referred to by nick-name, than her race. So it’s a personal thing. I just hope that people will make it clear when they meet, what they don’t mind being called, or have a badge made with “Call me Shorty/Spotty/Large Buttox” or whatever. Just make sure YOU don’t call them it anywhere near a camcorder or microphone.

The Welsh Assembly is going “on tour”, to ask if we want more powers devolved. That, in my view, is a pretty good idea. Democracy in being. In case they call when I’m down the garden tending the birth of the Asparagus trenches, I want one new law. That every slow lorry, tractor, horse box, Heavy-Load [usually a static caravan], TOWED caravan [Arghhhh!] from Birmingham or wherever, be made, on pain of death to pull into each and every lay-by, parking spot etc, on ALL single lane roads, to let pass the inevitable six hundred people who would like to conclude their journeys in the same month they started them.

Confederation news is a little light- I have now joined the West Wales Law Society, and am hoping to persuade them to have a close association with us. We hope to start the student membership process this spring, and wait to see the results of the membership push of the end of last year in the next few weeks.

Finally, I reached a personal milestone in my sporting life last November. I was very pleased about it. And it was widely expected that I would be broadcasting it in these pages in the last edition. Modesty, and the knowledge that a very close friend, and fellow native of Pembrokeshire, had bet a fiver that I WOULD crow in that article, meant that I did not.

He is from Solva, he is a partner in a large practise in Cardiff and he shall remain nameless… But if you insist, and you want to know-ring Andy Owen [aka “Deposed Supremo”] at Leo Abse & Cohen. Oh, and I would reverse the charges if I were you! Yaa,Boo, Sucks Andio!

Until the next time, may the only crunch you encounter be the frost on a sunny winter’s morn. A Happy and prosperous New Year to you all.

Simon Mumford
Chairman, Confederation of South Wales Law Societies

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