It’s that time of year again. A rash of Annual General Meetings, Council Dinners and retiring Presidents of local law societies.
In Cardiff, on 10th May, Trudy McBride turned in the dreaded “Sheriffs Badge” to Richard Fisher. We had a very nice dinner at the Park House (except that the main course was lamb!), where Ms. McBride spoke as eloquently as ever (despite her claim to suffer from stage fright), and Fishy reminded us all that, in a previous life, he was a very effective advocate indeed.
“Madam Pres”, has done a terrific job, in a very difficult period. Her tireless efforts on behalf of the whole profession in Cardiff, was superseded only by the effort she has put in for Criminal Practitioners nationwide.
It has been a privilege to serve with her (and the President, Roger Peach) in the formation of, and the actions for, the Criminal Defence Solicitors Union, of which she and I are Vice-Presidents.
She has spoken on many “Big Occasions” around the country. And she has done so with vigour and commitment. We should all be extremely proud and grateful for her year in office.
Her successor as “El Pres” is another old friend. Richard actually succeeded me at Layton Lougher & Co, in the early 1980’s.
Far from it being a spiky relationship, we immediately hit it off, and, as he reminded the AGM, we spent a large number of Friday afternoons in each others company at various(and not always tee-total) establishments. Of course these were vital meetings to discuss cases! Oh! for those halcyon days when Friday was “Poets Day”.
Fishy has been an amazing servant to the Incorporated Law Society for Cardiff and District and he refuses to give up his twenty plus year tenure as Social Secretary, intending to combine both jobs! He will make a fine President.
In his acceptance speech he told of his meeting, on arrival in Cardiff, with two “Beautiful Blondes”. He was bang on about the McBride, but I was a little worried when he said that I was the other!
Richard is in fact the link into my next anecdote. Because he and I were in attendance a few weeks ago, at the first James Callaghan Lecture. It was at the City Hall, and the speaker was none other than Tony “and I mean this most sincerely” Blair.
This was a master class in the art of political manoeuvring. To be fair his lecture was a nicely delivered mixture of nostalgia and “Haven’t we done well, especially me”, but it was his “Question Time” bit that was the real piece of work.
He took his questions in bunches of three, which allowed a planned and planted patsy to deliver numbers one and three, and one rogue question in the middle. Thus he was able to sound good at the beginning and the end, and hide any potential nasty things in the middle.
Now there were about fifteen Solicitors in the audience, Roy Morgan and I were on the same table, with about three other “Crimbo’s”, and our hands shot up before any one else.
But there was about as much chance of Mogs (Chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group) or your correspondent (Vice-Pres of the CDSU and known and loved to all in the establishment, including three successive Lord Chancellors, as “That Bloody Nuisance”), being allowed to ask a question, as there was of Boris Johnson being made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool. The guest list had been submitted weeks ago, and the rather intimidating crew of “Stalagluft” like minder/snoop/ prison wardens (one of whom, for no apparent reason was stationed directly behind our table), were busy identifying the dissidents to the large organising monitoring crew via their pretty obvious radios.
However, Fishy was on a table of non-lawyers. And he slipped through the net and was allowed to ask a question. Which was along the lines of “Tony, you slimy thing, now that you have destroyed Legally Aided practices, and dismantled the Justice System, what branch of the Legal Profession is next to receive the Dresden treatment?”
And here is the genius of that arch dissembler who has spun, ducked, dived and manipulated for the past ten years as Prime Minister.
He paused, looking to his left in a considered manner (obviously receiving some advice on his ear-piece) and then said, and I quote as accurately as I can from memory, “Richard, I was, I AM, a Barrister. And the most important thing I was taught as a young Barrister, was never to antagonise Solicitors,”(cue polite, muted and sycophantic laughter from the camp followers)” but Governments have to make difficult decisions, and this was one of them. And it is regrettable” REGRETTABLE.
Anyway he then went on, having flicked his capacious book of stock answers to “Number 347: How to Make Solicitors sound Like The Biggest chisellers in the History of everything. Ever.” and trotted out the nonsense about the Legal Aid Budget “spiraling out of control”(Not actually- its only Very High Cost Cases and Child Care and Immigration that is a problem, and that is because we have got all our policies completely wrong), that his Government had pumped vast sums into the system (not much has filtered down to us, old thing), and that all would rapidly be turned into the Utopia of New Labours making, and that a time of milk, honey and a cornucopia of other goodies would soon be tipping into the throats of us parched and worthy survivors. I felt a little like a Zimbabwean farmer being comforted by one of Mugabe’s thugs, as my property was being ripped away from me!
So, a though really fascinating experience, and a demonstration, if one were needed, of just how determined they are to carry out these “Reforms”.
So on to more pleasant matters. I had the delight of being the Guest Speaker at the Annual Dinner of the Dorset Law Society. Since they had had Janet Paraskeva and the Lord Chief Justice as their past two speakers, I was a little worried, and surprised, that “L’il Ole Me” was chosen this year.
Still, it was a great honour to be asked, and I set out with gusto to get myself to Poole in Dorset.
It took me over an hour to get out of Cardiff. The traffic was horrendous all the way. When I eventually reached Poole and read the letter properly, I found I was supposed to be in Portland, thirty miles away. It was now 7.15, and din-dins was at 7.45. So much for my plans to have a leisurely shower and write the rest of my speech.
I screamed into the Hotel (which has magnificent views of the Solent, Weymouth and Portland Bill), got booked in and into my very pleasant room, changed into the penguin suit, and then rifled my briefcase for the draft of a speech. Only to find that I had left most of it at home!
I had picked up the sheaf of spare paper, so had the first five pages (VERY big writing you see) and the rest was on the dining room table.
Curses! as Dick Dastardly would say. But, already late, there was nothing to be done but wing it.
And it was a lovely meal-six courses, based on a menu that was given to her Maj on her 80th birthday, and delightful company.
And my speech (ad-libbed after the first six minutes with notes) was going quite nicely, and I was well into my rant against Carter, Blair and Brown, when the sea food medley we had had as course no.2 claimed a victim. No not me, some poor devil who hadn’t realized he was allergic to Weymouth Bay prawns.
I have to concede that it was a bit unnerving to see the stricken fellow writhe and flap about. But apart from the folk on his table, no-one else seemed to notice. So somewhat callously, I soldiered on, whilst he was dragged off to a waiting ambulance! For that I thank Tim Hartland (of Clarke and Hartland) who once goosed me from behind in Cardiff Mags Court whilst I was in mid-flow in a bail application.
Well that’s the end of my rambling, Dear Reader. Apart from advising you to try to see a brilliant new film at the cinema. It’s called “Goya’s Ghost”. I went to it by accident- meant to see 28 Weeks Later, and it was the most stunning film visually and story-line wise I’ve ever seen. See, even culture in this column!
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