President's Letter (April 2007)

Was it Caesar or Napoleon who said that an army marches on its stomach? In any event whoever it was got it right. If at times this column sounds more like Richard Fisher’s restaurant critique, it’s because a President spends a lot of time eating! Were it not for the fact that I am consumed with worry about the effects of Carter and this Government's cruel axing of the Criminal Justice System, I would be about twenty stone by now. I am extremely disorientated and have come to the conclusion that it must be the end of March because of what I am doing. I feel like one of those American tourists on a whistle stop visit to Europe. It’s Thursday so it must be Splott!

The Legal Aid saga goes on. At the time of writing, Cardiff Solicitors have withdrawn their services from Cardiff Magistrates Court for a consecutive period of five working days. In other parts of the Country similar action is taking place with a view to indefinite withdrawal if the Government does not have a rethink on Carter. Many of us braved the elements to protest in Old Parliament Yard on Monday of this week. There was a fantastic turnout of approximately one thousand Legal Aid Lawyers who were addressed by prominent MP’s such as Simon Hughes and the Chancellor’s contender. We braved the elements of snow, thunder and lightening to make our point. At one stage we were even addressed by the Iraqi peace protester who has a home on Parliament Green. We were inspired by Des Hudson, the Chief Executive of the Law Society, who has proved to be a strong defender of the profession, who ventured to tell us that at this stage we should not sign the unified contract because it was unlawful and unfair and that the Law Society was fighting on our behalf to oppose it.

After the meeting we decided to defrost ourselves at a very nice French restaurant in Covent Garden. We selected the Restaurant called Tuttons, a French Brasserie, because at first we thought it was called Huttons and Stuart was in our party. Such is life when you need spectacles. We had an extremely good meal and fortified by a glass of wine or two we took the late train from Paddington.

I am saddened to say that the following day we were extremely deflated when we attended a Law Society meeting at the Park Plaza in Cardiff and we were addressed by Andrew Holroyd, the Vice President of the Law Society. He indicated that there was no such backing from the Law Society as had been given by Des Hudson the previous day. He talked about the Competition Act and the fact the Law Society could not urge people not to sign their contracts because that would mean that they would have no work at all. We were told in very guarded terms that the Law Society would be writing letters before action or something of that ilk this week but we were not told the terms of the same. I stood up and did my piece and in fact said that I felt that at lot of time had been lost in our action against the Government because I had persuaded my members that the Law Society was acting properly on our behalf and in accordance with the resolution at the special general meeting on the 17th January 2007. Andrew Holroyd quite understandably took exception to this and said that the Law Society was acting on our behalf but could not give any specifics. I understand that he asked one of the Law Society Officials in the Wales Office who that “passionate woman” was. My name was given and he was told that I was to be his dinner guest later on at St David’s Hotel.

At the hotel, I had an extremely nice meal. We were allocated a dinning room overlooking the Bay in all its glory. The meal was superb and the conversation was stimulating. Other members of the profession made up a total of ten guests, Gwyn George and Tristan Clapp being two of the lawyers who had been present at the earlier meeting. We did not just discuss the legal aid problem although that is an extremely pressing one for the profession but we discussed HIPS and referral fees. The Law Society appears to be doing very little about the latter and feels that the former has reduced in significance to the extent that the Law Society is now calling the HIPS pack the H.I Pamphlet. That matter will probably be resolved in the summer so watch this space.

So far as the unified contract was concerned those affected by it were urged to write to the Legal Services Commission and register their disapproval of it and ask the Commission what would happen if they didn’t sign it. Advice and guidance will be given on the Law Society website so I strongly urge those interested to get on there straightaway and at least do what the Law Society is advising. I feel that it should be pointed out to members of the profession, that although the Law Society cannot advise either industrial action or non-signing of the contract, it can remind its members that without their co operation there would not be a legal aid service. The Government is statutorily bound to provide access to justice, which it will not be able to do if there is no profession willing to undertake it.

To return to the beginning of March, I must say that it started with an early and shocking rise before dawn (it felt like the night before) to a breakfast at the Hilton Hotel as a guest of the Law Society. Although my appetite usually only wakes up mid morning, at 7.30 it felt like lunch time and I was ready for the wonderful cooked breakfast. We were addressed by amongst others Barbara Wilding, the Chief Constable, who told us that Cardiff was virtually crime free and an area ripe for investment from outside. Most of the people were reassured but some cynics amongst us were not. We see a different picture of Cardiff. It is amazing what statistics (and statistics are king to this Government) can do.

I must dash now because the life of a Political Activist is very full. I may only have a chance to grab a sandwich today but what the heck. I can’t believe that ten months of my term have already expired and this is my penultimate column. Time flies...!

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