Confederation Report (April 2008)

A funny thing happened to me at Haverfordwest Magistrates Court the other week. We were in the middle of a turgid bit of the case, and the bench were out considering a particularly obscure submission from me. The Prosecutor and I were desperately looking up various tomes of law to find out which of us was right (turned out neither of us were), when the Clerk, sorry Legal Adviser, who was looking at his computer, suddenly burst into gales of laughter.

Bemused we watched as he giggled his way through whatever he was reading. He looked up and invited me to go to his printer. ”You’ll love this“ he said.

As his machine churned out three pages I read aghast. “Hells teeth and buckets of blood” I muttered. Well perhaps it was a little louder than a mutter, because the bench came back in at just that moment to find a mirth ridden clerk, a perplexed looking prosecutor, and an angry defence hack.

So what had caused your normally mild-mannered correspondent to loose his customary sang froid? (Come on - I am really calm 90% of the time) Well it was an announcement from Lord Phillips (whose role in the All singing, all dancing Gordon” new haircut, old permanently shut wallet” Brown Extravaganza is beyond my tiny Chinese mind) informing the workers that Judges and Barristers would no longer have to wear wigs, gown and tabs in Family and Civil Courts, but that ADVOCATES would continue to wear the lot in Criminal Crown Courts.

You get it? Yup that means us Solicitors with Higher Rights are expected to wear the wig from January 1st 2008. It must be said that I have long been a strident voice in equalising dress with the Bar. But I always thought that wigs would be dropped for all.

Apparently the reason behind this decision is “to preserve the Advocates anonymity”. Well where has the concern for the Sol Advocate for the last 12 years pray? We wear the same gown as the ushers, aren’t as “Learned” as our Barrister colleagues (although it takes longer to qualify as a Solicitor) and are not “Natural Gentlemen” as they are.

And whilst I am daunted at the prospect of having to pay about £600 for the privilege of dumping a lump of horse hair on my rapidly whitening, and thinning, locks (and NO I do not have my hair lightened before you ask!), I have heard that the real reasons for this decision are that the Wig Manufacturers are a bloody sight better at lobbying for their future than we lawyers are, and secondly that this Government is hell bent on getting rid of the Junior Bar by making sure that we Solicitors will HAVE to conduct cases upstairs or go bust.

So, next week I shall hie myself hence to Old London Town, there to line the pockets of Messrs Ede and Ravenscourt, and invest in an antiquated silly toupee, which will look like a newly deceased seagull on my bonce.

Why the haste? Because, dear reader, there is no sillier sight than an aged advocate in a new wig. A bit like Nora Batty in hot pants.

So I shall get my syrup now and then spend the next five months booting the damnable thing about, rubbing it in various age producing substances and allowing the dog to sleep on it.

On a completely unrelated topic, I was fascinated at the announcement of Boris Johnson’s candidacy for the post of Mayor of London. Not because I have the faintest scintilla of interest in the running of the Smoke, but because of the debate it prompted on forenames which lead to the recognition of only one person.

Boris yes, and Cilla, Lulu, Cliff, Elton, Camilla, Sven(how droll that he now manages the fortunes of my beloved Man. City, and that we have a former Thai policeman turned politician turned businessman as Chairman), even Bernard(racist but occasionally very funny), Bernie( vertically challenged Motor racing impresario. Although “The Bolt“ would challenge). For us Welsh Gareth and Lynn conjure up sporting genius.

But in the main forenames are chosen for fashion reasons. I hate the name Simon. I objected when my nephew was named after me, although the alternative of Charles seemed crueller still.

It could have been worse. Had I been born a girl, my Dear Mother intended to call me Scarlet. Imagine. Scarlet Mumford. Sounds like a type of butterfly or a rare disease. So I have always preferred my nickname. And I do have a tendency to give friends nicknames, often based on who I think they look like. This has led to problems. And it has done so very recently.

I was at the Cardiff Council meeting in July (marvelling at the fact that one side of the Law Soc Wales Conference table was stocked by no fewer than SEVEN former Presidents), when a couple of the new Council members, including Mike Imperato, asked a question that bemused me. “How does the Law Society structure actually work in Wales, and what is the difference between the Wales Committee and Legal Wales?”.

Now , I have known Mike for about 15 years, he is another Cardiff Academicals Football Club member. He and I recently went on the tour to Spain. He spent virtually the whole of the trip wearing a pair of jeans, stout walking boots and a series of lumberjack shirts, and it suddenly struck me that he was the dead spit of “Woody” in the film Toy Story, you know the gangly cowboy. All arms and legs. Square jawed with a pronounced five-o-clock shadow. So I pointed this out to the rest of the lads, who thought it tres amusant, and he is now referred to as that particularly brilliant animated character by the club. It wasn’t meant to be insulting, and he did laugh. He has a very dry sense of humour, does Woody.

When he rather adroitly asked ME to explain the structure, and mentioned that perhaps I would like to make it part of my next article, I have to admit that I thought he might be getting his own back for my witty renaming .

I mean, how on earth do you explain the rather dysfunctional spiders web that is the representative/ regulatory/complaints structure of our Principality’s Profession. Especially when you consider that it is all changing after Carter?

And how, for pity’s sake, do you make it remotely interesting? it’s a bit like trying to make the description of tripe and onions appetising. Or a barium enema sound appealing.

And I then had to address the question of how do these agencies interact. Or whether they interacted at all,

So here goes. We all know that there is THE Law Society which was founded a squillion years ago, and is the oldest and governing body of every Solicitor in England and Wales. Except it wasn’t and it isn’t. It, TLS, is in fact younger than quite a few local Law Socs, and the “Carter Effect” has imposed two regulating arms, to whit, the Solicitors Regulating Authority, basically the Professions policeman, and the Complaints organ (which has had so many names that it really isn’t possible to list them in a volume smaller than the Bible). These are SUPPOSED to be answerable to TLS, but of course are not. They are independent and will become more so as the years pass.

And TLS has a number of Committees, with various functions. Looking at Wales, the most important committee is the Wales Committee (no mistaking that one then), under the Chairmanship of the former President of TLS, Carolyn Kirby. The membership of this body consists of the five TLS Council members, together with practitioners, academics and representatives of several groups. They set themselves tasks, chief amongst which is the vital on of monitoring the legislation that churns out of the Assembly. But they don’t have any powers over the Profession.

In fact, you could probably say that sitting above them all, is the Ombudsman, who dishes out fines to anyone and everyone who lifts a head above the parapet.

Anyhow, if we confine ourselves to Representation, we have TLS and its Regional Offices. Law Society Wales, whose offices are at Capital Tower in Cardiff, is not a strictly Regional Office, because it deals with a whole country.

The Office does not have any powers over Practitioners, (save via Chancery Lane) nor does it have any specific membership (nor do the diminishing band of English Regional Offices).

Then there are the Regional organisations, of which ours are ALSOW (the Associated Law Societies of Wales) and, in South Wales, the Confederation. There are many others, in England, like the Yorkshire Union, but there are significant “gaps” where no Regional organisations exist. These bodies DO have members, both corporate (Local Law Societies) and individual. But no powers of discipline or regulation, save via TLS.

The base of this “Pyramid” is made up of Local Law Societies. These are the truly representative organs, and attempt to be the voice of the Profession. Sadly, in my experience, TLS does not listen to these voices nearly enough, which is why it has such a lousy press in the shires and towns. Of course, many societies are inactive, even moribund, but many are thriving and do tremendous work for their members.

“Woody” was confused about Legal Wales. This is not a Society, nor a Regional body, nor a branch or committee of any of the above. It is an organisation, led by the Bar in Wales, whose object is to organise an annual conference to debate topical issues. It does have Solicitor members, and it does have the support of Lowri Morgan and the staff of the Wales Office, but it is not part of the “pyramid”, if there is such a structure.

Additionally, there are other bodies, such as the Young Solicitors Group, the Trainee Solicitors Group (who may, it seems, soon amalgamate), the Institute of Legal Executives, and other Groups who represent areas of practice, disabilities and ethnicity, who are separate but linked by common interests with the whole thing.

So, you ask, how does this multi-headed Hydra interact? What process gels it altogether? And the answer is, purely through good will.

As we are probably the most apathetic Profession on the planet, only a very few hardy souls get involved with any of these bodies. And they are usually on several of them, so they bring to each table news of what happens at the other tables.

I suspect that we in Wales are better linked than many other areas, because we are small in number, but basically gregarious, and enjoy a good “knees up”, which is what many meetings often are.

And the future. Well, as I constantly say in my “Woe, woe and thrice woe” soothsayer bleat, TLS is in real danger of losing the majority of its influence and power, and along with it its support and membership.

But any void is always filled, and my view is that the Regional and local organs along with the “Groups” will fill the vacuum.

So there we are “Woody” . A potted and extremely boring explanation of the structure. I hope you’re satisfied. And by the way, you aren’t the only one to be nicknamed- Roy Morgan looks like Trevor Eve, Richard Payne in sunglasses looks like Mr Incredible, Richard Fisher looks like a middle aged Harry Potter (Thank you - Editor), Rob Havard looks like Superman, and I accept that I look like Chris Tarrant. Final Answer.

May I appeal to you all to attend the Confederation's Autumn CPD Seminars - now of some reknown! Click here for more information and a booking form.

Happy Hols everyone. Its me for the asparagus trench.

Simon Mumford
Chairman

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