Confederation Report (October 2010)

Some of the more elderly of the readers of this journal will, I hope, remember a much loved TV programme called “Up Pompeii”.

It starred Frankie Howard as a Roman slave, and it was jam-packed full with innuendo and “double entendre” (Notwithstanding the risqué nature of the show, my other-worldly Latin teacher, Miss Ellis, used it as a vehicle for getting us to master a bit of Latin - and it worked, so perhaps she wasn’t quite so naïve as we thought! Mind you “Caesar et sum jam and te, Brutus ad arat, Caesar sic in omnibus, Brutus sic in at”, has been of limited benefit to your correspondence to be honest.)

Anyway, each week during this classic offering, a haggard old crone would wander into shot wailing “Woe, Woe and thrice Woe….”, predicting the inevitable destruction of Pompeii, and, of course, was completely ignored. As Frankie would say “Ooohhhhhhh Nooooo. Silly old bat!”

I often wonder whether she ever got to say “I told you so!” as the lava swept down. And I empathise. For, I, Dear Reader, am the modern day legal equivalent of that crone. Admittedly, I have not yet resorted to rubbing ashes into my white hare, though many may think that my threadbare suits resemble sackcloth. But, and I apologise for this, I have been bleating and whining about the “doom” of our profession and the legal system, for about twenty years. I even had pieces published in the Law Society Gazette foretelling of the problems to come (Not all of them came to pass, I must admit, but every soothsayer has their bad day). I have no doubt you are all heartily sick of me.

And now, in this season of mellow fruitfulness, a time of year I normally enjoy more than any other, I feel totally depressed and hopeless.

There are many reasons for this. On a personal note, the death of a much loved aunt yesterday morning, and a close friend an hour later, have saddened me considerably.

The awful and tragic news about the drowning of that fine criminal and family solicitor Colin Jones of Barry was a thunderbolt. Colin was great company, had a wicked sense of humour, and was style personified. I always thought him as the legal version of Bryan Ferry, and I mean that as a great compliment. Our condolences and prayers go to his family at this very sad time.

Professionally, I have been horrified and appalled at the Family Contract situation. As I write, a number of appeals have been successfully mounted by firms who should never have been stripped of their franchise in the first place. Whichever “Einstein Mandarin” sitting somewhere in the parish of Westminster was thinking of, apart from his wage packet, is simply beyond me.

My lovely ex, Michelle Zerbino, a Family Court Clerk held in high regard by all professionals, told me that the implications of this cull to the ability of the courts to cope are inestimable. Litigants in person in Criminal cases are a nightmare. In highly sensitive and complex Family cases, it is simply terrifying.

Couple the loss of a number of highly skilled lawyers in the field, with the cuts in courts and court staff, and the whole kit and caboodle becomes untenable.

“In the moment the ashes are made, but the forest is a long time growing.” as Seneca so wisely said (notice the Roman theme still being maintained?)

And it is beyond doubt that a large number of our colleagues will leave the profession now.

As you read this, the “Octoberfest” of the coalition Government will have been revealed. Lord knows what horrors that will have unleashed on the Justice system.

The other aspect that has really saddened me, is the bad feeling that the process has engendered. Good people I have known for the whole of my legal careers, friends to me and to many of those actually involved in this ghastly business, have become antagonistic towards one another. It reminds me of the internecine warfare amongst conveyancers in the early 1980’s, brought on by the Austin Mitchell Bill, allowing unlicensed property businesses to slash costs and heralded a billing war, a massive increase in prosecutions for mortgage fraud, and a lot of shoddy work and corner cutting.

It is extremely difficult to be embroiled in a fight for survival and to be objective. I am not a family lawyer, although I started my career as a bad one, then sensibly moving into the less complex and demanding field (sometimes!) of criminal law. But, past experience, being a hack, and a Mental Health lawyer does, I hope, give me an insight in what it is like to operate in such an emotional minefield.

And it is always the Government, it seems, sadly, of all political persuasions, who feel that our justice system can be used as the first port of call for cost cutting.

A quote from Anatole France seems apt-“. The law, in its majestic equality forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under bridges, and to steal bread.” And there’s the rub. The only people able to hire what few lawyers are left, will be the rich.

So the natural outrage shown by Family Lawyers to both the Government who postulated this garbage plan, and to certain others who SEEM to have benefited from the contracting process, is understandable.

And whilst I am not trying to be Popelike (Loud guffaws from the stalls!) in a call for reconciliation, I do ask for some memory.

Whilst there is bad feeling in many parts of the country, the most vitriol seems to be in Cardiff. And whilst he will not thank me for this, my experience seems to show me that Roy Morgan is one of the most vilified.

I don’t know, nor do I wish to know, the rights and wrongs of all of this. I do know that Roy has served our profession in capacities that include Duty Solicitor Administrator, President of the Cardiff Law Society, Negotiator with Government, President of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and a host of other unpaid and time-consuming committees and panels. He has gone the extra thousand miles that many of our more apathetic colleagues have not.

Yes, he is a close and much valued friend of mine. But so are many of his detractors. Please remember that. “He who cannot forgive others, destroys the bridge over which he must himself pass” (Sorry, not a Roman - George Herbert.)

Remises the Second, one of the top johnnies who had the job of Pharaoh of Egypt, sent his philosopher into the dessert to discover a phrase that summed up the human condition. After two years, he returned with that phrase. It was “This too shall pass.”

And this outrage WILL pass. Eventually some MP Minister, having has his ears bent by a constituent who has been unable to get representation to gain contact with his, or her, child, will collar his Private Secretary, and say “What we need is one of those chaps that used to ensure that ordinary folk were property represented. What were they called? “Solicitors and Barristers, I think Minister”. Yes, those are the coves. See if you can rustle a few up will you. Give ‘em a bit of dosh, that should do the trick!” Let’s hope there are still a few left. At the moment I feel like a Dinosaur watching the Asteroid plummet towards me, or a Pompeian hot water and heating supplier realising that he is about to be made redundant.

There we are, soap box dismounted.

The Confederation Autumn courses will be underway by the time you read this. Once again the great work of our Secretary, Mike Walters, has delivered a really good value assortment, with some excellent speakers and topics (apart from “Drug induced Psychosis” by some has-been on the Criminal Update course, that is.) I encourage you all to support the Confederation by attending.

I started with soothsayers and mystics, and thus on a lighter note, shall I conclude.

Scylla the Pompeii soothsayer and mystic, goes to see her doctor, with the variety of ailments. “It’s not good” says her physician. “Because you walk barefoot all of the time, your feet are full of calluses. Because you eat very little, you’re very frail. And because your diet is pretty iffy, your breath is absolutely disgusting, all in all I’d say you were a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis!”




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