President's Letter (October 2015)

The leaves are turning colour, the nights are growing longer and the temperature is falling.  Autumn is here.  It’s the time of year when you notice the year is beginning to come to an end.  Nature starts to decay yet human nature, paradoxically, celebrates beginnings: the beginning of the academic year and the beginning of the legal year.


So I’ll start this column by welcoming our new readers.  You may be a student in your first year at university, or new to your current university as you’re studying for your GDL, LPC or BPTC and are reading this magazine during a placement week or while working part-time.  You may be starting your career as a trainee solicitor or as a pupil or as a paralegal in your first job, or as a newly qualified solicitor who has assumed responsibility for your own cases and costs target for the first time or a barrister with a new tenancy.  Or you may be an experienced solicitor or barrister who has moved jobs or moved location and are new to Cardiff or South Wales.  Welcome to all of you.  I hope each of you enjoys working in Cardiff and its hinterland and has a long, happy and prosperous career in the legal profession.


The seriousness of the challenges facing the legal professions in England and Wales currently are unprecedented in my working life.  The Ministry of Justice’s announcement of who has been awarded the legal aid contracts for criminal legal aid in England and Wales is overdue.  It can’t even announce the results of its appalling contract bidding without cocking it up.  Those firms which have failed to obtain a contract or to work within a syndicate which has been awarded one may go out of business but I am not sure that those who have been awarded them have actually “won” their contracts as some of them may go out of business too.  There are no winners in this shameful interference in the free market of legal services.  Instead, there are different categories of losers, none of whom, apart from those in the Ministry of Justice who have lost what moral authority they may once have had, deserve to have lost anything at all.  Some of them have lost their careers and their businesses for no good reason - and this has happened in the year we have celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.


I invited Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, to visit Cardiff on 14 October to speak to the profession about the SRA’s consultation on assessing competence.  Unfortunately, she has postponed the meeting.  It will now take place on Thursday 14 January 2016 at 5.30 at Capital Tower. Since the SRA’s consultation had already been postponed from September to December, her visit should now coincide with the SRA consultation, which will make her visit timely.  I hope members will turn out in droves to show Julie that solicitors care about their education and training which equips the profession with the skills and knowledge its members need and contributes to the high esteem in which the solicitors’ profession of England and Wales is held internationally.


I have also invited the Law Society’s new chief executive, Catherine Dixon, to visit Cardiff in November to meet the profession and talk about the Law Society’s new strategy.  I hope that the details of her visit can be publicised soon.  I urge as many of you as possible to meet her when she comes.  It is important to be able to put a face to the name and to learn something about what makes the chief executive of the Society tick.  Above all, it will be important to let her know how Wales is different from England.


I am writing this in the aftermath of Wales’s heroic beating of England in the Rugby World Cup at Twickenham.  Of course, Wales’s difference to England runs much deeper than its rugby identity, but the rugby identity provides clues to the differences between Wales and England.  An important difference for lawyers in Wales and of growing importance to the people of Wales, is the different laws which apply to Wales but not to England.  The Law Commission has just completed an important consultation on the form and accessibility of the law applicable in Wales.  It would be a real feather in Wales’s cap if the law which applies in Wales was made more accessible to the Welsh people and their legal professions.


The Opening of the Legal Year ceremony takes place in London, on 1 October.  Tom Danter went to it last year but I haven’t been invited so I’m not going.  Instead I am attending the Opening of the Legal Year in Wales service at Llandaff Cathedral on 11 October.  I have been invited to this and I am looking forward to it.  Earlier this summer I took visitors from Canada to view the cathedral and they were very impressed with it.  However, days later some masonry fell from a pillar in the cathedral during a funeral service so I wonder whether it would be appropriate to wear a hardhat to the service.  Protocol tells me that a gentleman should always remove his hat when in church.  As your president I must act like a gentleman so I shall take my life in my hands and will worship bareheaded.  That’s dedication, isn’t it?  I am prepared to sacrifice my life for the society!


The service will be preceded by two important events in the local legal calendar.  The first is the Cardiff Legal Walk, which has a Magna Carta theme this year and takes place on Thursday 8 October.  Reaching Justice Wales raises money for free legal advice services in Wales.  These services are valuable and needed more than ever as the third sector has struggled, just as firms committed to legal aid services have done, to cope with the cuts in legal aid and in the grants they receive from local authorities.  Cardiff Law Centre was forced to close in 2014, for example.  So the aims of Reaching Justice Wales are important and worthwhile and RJW deserves the support of the entire legal profession - including those firms who already provide a substantial pro bono service to the community.  I have been delighted to accept the invitation of the chair of Reaching Justice Wales, His Honour Judge Anthony Seys Llewellyn, to join him, Robert Bourns, the vice president of the Law Society, and other distinguished people as one of the lead walkers for this year’s event.  I hope that many of you will have joined our company.


The Legal Wales Conference has become an important and established fixture in the Welsh legal year.  This year’s conference takes place on Friday 9 October at the SWALEC stadium.  The programme includes sessions on the future of Welsh administrative justice, devolution in Scotland (which increasingly seems to be a suitable blueprint for a model of future devolution in Wales) and on the work of the European Court of Human Rights, which is particularly topical given the current government’s wish to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a British bill of rights (whatever that means).


The following week, on 15 October, is the Confederation of South Wales Law Societies’ annual Civil Litigation update course at the Cardiff City Stadium.  I will be chairing this, after a gap of 4 years, and am looking forward to it.  CPD courses such as this one will remain important after the changes to the CPD regime for solicitors which will apply to all solicitors from 1 November 2016.  Although the compulsory annual quota of 16 CPD hours will no longer apply, every practising solicitor will have to provide a declaration on their practising certificate renewals that they have considered their CPD needs and firms will have to provide a similar declaration too.  Attendances at courses such as those run by the Confederation and by Kaplan Altior, Cardiff and District law society’s preferred CPD provider, will provide evidence that you have considered your training needs.


David Dixon

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