Confederation Report (February 2012)

“This is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Macbeth)

Which tell you, dear reader, that in my Christmas stocking this time, I got a book called Shakespeare’s Insults for Lawyers. Absolutely wonderful.

And, in my view this is a particularly apt quotation, as it describes to a tee my missives to you over the last couple of decades as your representative at Chancery Lane, President and Hon Sec of the Incorporated Law Society for Cardiff and District and, latterly, President of the Confederation.

I seen to have made a lot of noise, offended a large number of people (including three Lord Chancellors, at least two Law Society Presidents, umpteen LSC Luminaries and countless others of differing persuasions), with little tangible to mark my thirty years involved with national and local law society “politics”.

And this is the last rant I shall deliver as President, I think that almost six years in the post is quite enough. I have been honoured to have been elected and re-elected for so long, but I am feeling a bit like the “Vicar of Bray”.

Let me have you in no doubt that I have really loved the job. And the regular opportunity to vent my spleen (or “void my reheum” as Will puts it), has been remarkably therapeutic.

Your new President has many attributes and is the first female to wear the badge. About time too!

Gaynor is a terrific lawyer, a dedicated local law society member. She is also a great deal better looking than me. I wish her as much pleasure from this lovely job as I have had. I feel sure that a fresh approach will bring more success to the organisation.

“How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!” (Henry IV Part 2).

And having (extremely reluctantly) been “persuaded” to do the Army “Adventurous Training” last month, I know that I am rapidly reaching the stage where my adventures are likely to be confined to selecting which plants will inhabit my garden. My Commanding Officer politely pointed out that I had done no “adventurous stuff”, since I was in the RAF nearly twenty years ago. My bleating plea about age and infirmity, was met with total rejection, so it was off to Austria for me.

The ski-ing part of this winter acclimatisation course lasted about 45 seconds. Having not skied for about 15 years I should have realised that launching my substantial and creaking frame down a red run on day one was not such a good idea. A comparatively adept right hand turn led me to believe I was still perfectly able. No problem! Age is only a number! The left hand turn that followed was proof of the contrary. My right knee make a hideous cracking noise, I went down like a sack of spuds and cart wheeled inelegantly to the foot of the slope.

“Grovel on the face!” (Henry VI Pt 2)

It took me half an hour to crawl back to the cable car, a further half an hour of ignominy of being the only person descending to the bottom without ski-ing there. I then practised in the car park for an hour before having a knee brace fitted and spending the next few days where I should have been all along on the nursery slopes! Even there shame of being elderly could not be avoided as two year old Austrian children whizzed past me, often doing two or three trips down in the time I gingerly snow-ploughed one, my face wearing an expression somewhere between Mr Bean handling Dynamite and Captain Francesco Schettino when he realised that waving to his mate from twenty yards when you are in a ruddy great liner in a shallow bay full of rocks wasn’t such a good idea!

I did, however, manage to cover myself in glory, by sitting in a snow hole for several hours. (I had a book and flask of Bovril). Thus proving that I am brilliant at being completely static. I am therefore fully qualified to defend the realm during a blizzard so long as I don’t have to move anywhere else. A sort of human Maginot Line.

“You are no better than a fellow of no merit” (Henry V)

Or as Randolph Jones, esteemed Dolmans conveyancer (retired) and all round sportsman and wit once put it to a match official during an Accies v Bridgend Street FC encounter about a particularly aggressive forward “Referee, this man’s a clown!” Andy Owen would have loved my denouement after all the stick I’ve given him over the years.

As I am on this Bard bit, I was somewhat amused to see how relevant his influence still is. First there is the news that Arizona is banning the Tempest as a discussion topic, because Prospero is apparently anti-immigrant. Then Danny Boyle (the director of the Indian epic about hat makers – “Slumdog Milliner”) announces that the same play will form the theme for his opening ceremony at the London Olympics.

“Confusion hath now made his masterpiece!” (Macbeth)

Which segways me nicely onto the New Year and …..The future. (Well, you wouldn’t expect me to slip off without a final rant, would you?)

Nor, I suspect will you expect me to depart from my self appointed role as the soothsaying old hag from “Up Pompeii” – “Woe, woe and thrice woe!!!

Where to start?

The Housing Market is depressed so domestic conveyancing is as fruitful as being a Carlos Tevez “I love Manchester” representative.

Commercial firms are laying off paralegals (many of whom were promised training contracts if they worked for a decade or so for bladders) and solicitors at a ferocious rate of knots.

Family Law cuts are likely to mean further inroads into access to justice (even though Dr Graham Cookson of Kings College, has proved that the cuts will actually NOT save even half as much as the Government think).

Civil Litigation reforms will mean that unless you represent an extened family who went on a celebration cruise on the Costa Concordia, the pickings are likely to get extremely thin in the very near future.

The Immigration Advisory Service went into administration over six months ago, but its clients, or many of them, were not told, so they can ring the LSC helpline. Phew, I bet that’s a relief. Provided they’ve got enough credit on their mobiles to wait an hour or so to get an answer, that is. And who, may I enquire, is going to give the advice? Hmmmm! Not, methinks a qualified lawyer. And isn’t there the teeniest bit of conflict with the LSC (committed to cutting cost) giving advice to those seeking legal representation when they can’t afford to pay?

I mean, when you read that Jewels, a large legal aid firm in the Midlands, closed purely because the LSC delayed proper payments of fees, you do question the LSC’s commitment to cause a smidgeon, don’t you?

“There is no more mercy in him, than there is milk in a male tiger! (Coriolanus)

You would think that in the employment law field, in these times of high unemployment and cutbacks, there was opportunity. But only if you are prepared to take a punt for the employee, who is probably brassic and needs his benefits and savings to buy Tesco’s own brand to prevent malnutrition.

And finally what about criminal law?

Well on the downside, competitive tendering WILL arrive sooner rather than later. On the upside, Magistrates are to be “encouraged” to keep more cases in the lower courts, so more work for solicitors. But fewer Representation Orders, lower awards (if any) of costs from Central Funds, so even winning may not help.

The Lord Chancellor seems to have as his maxim “ I am the bottom that must sweep the court clean of such filth as thou art! (Henry VI again)

On the upside, a government determined to crack down on crime. Downside – 10,000 fewer policemen to do the cracking. And many more “instant disposals” cautions, reprimand and final warnings etc. So good news for police station advisers then? Probably not “cos their fees will be cut further”.

 “Zounds! I was never so bethump’d with words since I first called my brother’s father dad” (King John) Probably not that apposite, but a quotation with the words “Zounds” and “Bethumpd”?? How could I not use it?

I apologise for painting such a dreadful picture, but there it is. Until someone at the top realises the need for justice and starts cutting trips to meaningless meetings for senior lackeys in Davos and the Maldives and FUNDS access to justice, we will be just like me cartwheeling down the slippery slope.

I suspect that the next major talking point will be the discovery of the case papers that had apparently been destroyed in the Lynette White corruption case. I was one of the lucky criminal lawyers practising in Cardiff in the late 1980s who was not involved in that notorious trial (although five of my clients were arrested and questions about it)

The key thing about this is not that the officers in question have been acquitted (the evidence seemed pretty flimsy against a fair few of them in my view) but that possible abuse of process that surrounds the whole thing will have to be addressed by the South Wales Police.

That this whole shambles has occurred has major implications for the institutions involved and justice in this country. It is inevitable that the staff and cost-cutting will be raised.

Surely the proper thing to do is to have a formal Public Enquiry with full disclosure and transparency.

Still, look on the bright side if we follow the Dutch model, we the public will be able to tell the police what crimes we want them to target. That sounds fun. Unworkable but fun.

And so I depart!

No more of these vain parleys (The Two Noble Kinsmen)

I pray thee cease thy counsel which falls into my ears as profitless as water in a sleeve (Much Ado About Nothing)

My heartfelt thanks to you all. If I mention Allen Oliver, Roger Jones, David Dixon, Richard Fisher, Tony Williams, Mike Walters, Roy Morgan, Frances Edwards, Viv Picton as just a few who have been of such invaluable assistance to me for many years, I hope I do not offend the huge list that I don’t name.

WG Grace, the famous cricketer was clean bowled in a match. As he replaced the dislodged bail he said to the umpire “Twas the wind that took the bail off”

The umpire replied “indeed Doctor. And let us hope that the wind helps the good Doctor on thy journey back to the pavilion!

I’m on my way to the pavilion! Parting is such sweet sorrow!

My best wishes to you all for the future

Pob Hwyl


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