Confederation Report (October 2009)

Do you ever find yourself musing about life’s imponderables? You know the type of thing -finding a single shoe in a remote place (what rich or tragic fragment of the tapestry of life led to its solitary exile?) or the fact that solely absent from a pocket full of every one of the coins of the realm, is the 20p piece necessary for the car parking machine.

Or even the inexplicable misplacing of the newspaper which contains a piece on which you intended to begin your regular article for the only Welsh Legal magazine (Oh yes! I do actually research and collect thoughts and news pieces before I plunge headlong into these frantic compilations of utter tripe!).

Anyway, the loss of said snippet sent me scurrying out to the front gate of Asparagus Towers to trawl through the orange “paper and plastic bottle only” recycling bag that Pembrokeshire CC so kindly provide its citizens with, it being rubbish day and your humble scribe having carted the trash out the night before. Not a particularly edifying sight, clad, as I was, in my tatty old dressing gown and slippers, for any passing early morning commuter.

Hair askew, muttering darkly, flinging half a rain forest’s worth of newsprint into the still West Walean morning air, in a desperate bid to locate one small passage, before the Refuse truck hove into view, to deny me the springboard for this missive.

Happily, on this occasion the search was fruitful (albeit the Daily Telegraph from Monday 14th September had wormed itself into the very bottom of the bag, beneath the Narberth and Whitland Observer of April- another imponderable to add to my Dementia ridden brain).

“So.” You will no doubt be thinking, ”What has the old twit found to rant about that caused this frantic 7am impersonation of Edna the inebriate woman sifting the content of a bin bag?”

Just this. Sandwiched on the page 14 “In Brief” column, between “Togs to say farewell to Wogan in song” and “£8,000 from bank of Mum and Dad” (my three have done a darned sight better than that!), was:-

“Ministry staff overpaid by £1.5m justify Officials at the Ministry of Justice (!!!!) have been overpaid more than £1.5 million. More than half the money has been written off. In one case a civil servant was given an extra £18,500 on top of annual earnings of £22,000. The errors were discovered when a new payroll system was brought in after the department was created out of part of the Home Office and the Department of Constitutional Affairs.”

I sincerely hope that this induces in you the same incandescent explosion of anger and bitterness that it did in me.

Imagine, and it really isn’t difficult, a situation where a small private practice with the dubious “privilege” of having a Legal Aid Franchise, had been overpaid.

Would this be “written off”? Would it hell as like. The faceless Recovery Mandarins (probably the same ones who have received this same windfall) would be camped outside the dilapidated office door of “Head, Just and Barelyabovewater, Solicitors”, within milliseconds of the discovery. Probably accompanied by a SWAT team from the SRA and half a hundred anti-terrorist armed police.

And the hypocrisy of whatever Head of Department to actually consider writing off such a sum! £750,000 and more. That would provide at least two years survival for about five small practices.

And I know that this is just the tip of an iceberg, one I sincerely hope will fatally rip a hole in SS Brownstuff next spring. How much did the “Creation” of the vaunted “Ministry of Justice” cost? How many private “Consultants” fees were paid to numpties who were engaged in months of toil to determine how much bog-roll would be required to satisfy Health and Safety regulations? Or which type of biscuit would be politically correct for the little darlings who have the weight of our poor old country‘s legal system on their overworked shoulders? Let alone the cost of designing a suitable logo and crest for the headed notepaper!

On top of this Lord Roy Morgan, our indefatigable “Tilter at Government windmills“, tells me that the Ministry of Justice has awarded pay rises of between 14 and 22% to many of its senior civil servants! Unbelievable!

Gordon has probably got a slimey spin phrase for this like “Unpredictable event resource re-alignment policy at MinJustice” or some such. To the Solicitors profession it is simply rank INjustice.

I found myself caught up in the debate about alternative methods of dealing with heroin addiction last week. You will all have read or heard about the pilot schemes in London, Brighton and Darlington, where addicts (about 100 of them) are receiving medically supervised doses of heroin from the NHS free of charge, instead of having to depend on dodgy street supplies.

There were, of course, dozens of “Outraged from Sidcup’s” witterring on about how it was disgraceful, sending the wrong message and “Put ‘em in a concrete blockhouse on Benbecula for six months” stuff. But one very senior and experienced Police Inspector posed a really good question to an educated addict whose life has been blighted by his addiction for over twenty years- “Has any thing the police have done helped you in any way?” The answer was, naturally, “No”.

The number of registered addicts stood at some 25,000 in the mid 1970’s. The “War on Drugs” policy that was invoked then, and has continued unabated since, has seen that number rise to over 250,000. Back then (when criminal lawyers were actually paid a decent rate) addicts were able to get drugs on the NHS. The proportion of drug related crime was at about 10 to 20%. (It now stands at about 85%) When this policy of NHS supply stopped, it opened the floodgates to Drug Barons, whose really dangerous products, and their ability to “groom” a new, and larger, consumer base made the situation far, far worse.

By driving the “trade” underground, it had the twofold effect of making drugs scene attractive because of its illegality and anti authoritarian position, and worse polluting the supply. It meant that the addicts had to pay for their drugs, and since most were unable to do so through their own incomes, fostered a culture of theft, deception and robbery to raise the necessary funds.

The results from these three pilots has been amazing- the participants have taken charge of their lives, the incidents of criminal behaviour has plummeted, there are fewer street dealers. And the risk of dirty needles being picked up by kids has been reduced.

Now I know that supplying heroin through state agencies has a cost to the taxpayer, and that the eventual price for those of the quarter of a million poor souls who are addicted would be high. But if by all employed folk paying another £50 a year to take the drugs off the streets of our towns and cities, if it means that the retail prices in the big stores were to stop rising due to teams of addicts pursuing commercial shop-lifting giving up, or that only one vulnerable person doesn’t get mugged for their mobile or burgled and beaten in their home by an addict desperate to fund his or her next fix, then in my view it will be worth the cost. The saving in terms of prison numbers and drug induced psychosis, not to mention the lifting of the numbers in A & E for polluted supplies would be immense.

By the time you read this, the Cardiff Magistrates will have seen the retirement of its senior resident District Judge.

Gerwyn Watkins has been in place for a long time. He has never been flamboyant, as a couple of his predecessors have been, but neither has he ever been prone to outbursts of anger.

I believe that he has been the most scrupulously fair judge in all regards. His courtesy to all advocates, his attention to all issues during trials, his patience in dealing with all of us “treading the boards” (even when we are indulging in the most outrageous flights of legal fancy) and his even handed sentencing (virtually unappealable!) will be sorely missed. He has been a great friend to the Advocates of South Wales, always supportive and approachable. I wish him the happiest of retirements.

Those of you who read this column on a regular basis know of my association with Cardiff Academicals Football Club. You have read of its beginnings and its links to Solicitors and Barristers. I have bored you all with the highs and the lows of their fortunes.

In this, the thirtieth year of our existence, we have been paid a high honour indeed. Due to our long association with tours to Holland, we were invited to travel to Amsterdam to play the mighty Ajax Veterans.

And so on Saturday 12th September, seventeen elderly Accies (Yes! Me too!) boarded the KLM Citylink aeroplane at 6am. It was a wonderful day, and boy, were we nervous. Our anxiety was hardly helped by the news from my journalist son Gwilym, who had been surfing the web, and had discovered that on the previous weekend, Ajax had beaten Groennigen Vets 12-0, with a certain Dennis Bergkamp (of Arsenal and Holland renown) scoring a hat-trick.

Undeterred we arrived at the Amsterdam International arena, and were shown to our palatial changing room. Brand new sky and maroon kit laid out, with numbers and names on the back. A vast white board to write tactics on. A physiotherapists couch (sadly no physio), and a socking great kettle of tea. A superb state of the art playing surface. Ely Racecourse it wasn’t. (We rather missed the abandoned burnt out stolen car and the pile of used Diamond White cider cans.)

After a couple of rousing Churchillian speeches, we ran (well hobbled quickly) out. They had a couple of former Dutch Internationals on show, and to play, you had to have featured for Ajax in the league. No pressure then. (Happily Mr Bergkamp was commentating on a live game somewhere (Man City 4 Arsenal 2 actually!), so we didn’t have to deal with him!)

It was not the greatest of starts. We conceded a goal after 2 minutes. I started as centre forward, and had not touched the ball apart from kicking off twice, when I was “rotated” after 20 minutes (quick fag in the sumptuous dug-out). Cue the opening of the floodgates? Not so, dear reader.

Despite the obvious gulf in class, 3-0 was the final score, much credit to us. And an invitation to play them again next year! They also want to come and play us in Cardiff. We will have to hire the Millennium.

There is, I am afraid to report, one sour note. Since it was SUCH a big occasion, our Director of Football (honest-we have got one) the irrepressible Gareth Cook (Cardiff City Council Accountant), deemed that we should be properly attired. Dominic Niglazzio, one of six Cardiff Solicitors in the party, had designed a very classy new Italianate tie. We were asked to wear a dark suit, white shirt and decent shoes. And we all did. Well, all but one.

Once again, the name of Leo Abse and Cohen has been blighted by Andrew “Supremo” Owen. Pembrokeshire hangs its head. Solva sobs for its errant prodigal son. Yes. The man who last season suffered a Spanish nightmare, did it again. Not for him the sartorial look. No. He, it was, who sported a very light grey crumpled linen sports jacket, which he admitted, nay BOASTED, that he had bought in a charity shop (the cost of having it dry cleaned was more than the price that he paid for it), a pair of light grey chino’s from Peacocks (completely different hue from aforesaid jacket), and a pair of dark battleship grey matt surgical shoes, without the callipers.

That he had an absolutely magnificent match, box to box, tigerrish tackles, astute passes, brave headers, is simply not enough. Charges have been laid, evidence gathered, expert witnesses subpoenaed. The trial, as they say, continues!

On the Confederation front, we have decided to keep open the free membership to all comers for the next year. The CPD programme is in full swing. We hope to have a winter “bash”, of which more anon.

Until the next time.


Simon Mumford
Chairman, Confederation of South Wales Law Societies

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