President's Letter (December 2015)


Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.


I don’t know about you but I find the advent of the Christmas season with its drinking, feasting and jollity a rather worrying time.  As I grow stouter with age I have less need to ingest these calories.  And as my beard grows whiter (the photograph of me above this article is not a recent one) and my physique more robust, I have been alarmed to discover that more and more I resemble a grumpy and bad tempered Santa Claus.  So there should be widespread relief as I inform you that I shall not be the Santa at this year’s Children’s Festive Fun at Parc Play on Curran Embankment on Saturday 12 December at 4.30.  Instead, we’ve managed to attract the real one.  I hope and expect that he is as kind and good as he seemed when we negotiated his early visit to Cardiff.  I hope all of you who go there have a great time.  Thanks to Synergy Costs for sponsoring the event.


This is one of the few events in the calendar for Cardiff and District law society that I’m not going to.  I have been kept busy since I wrote my last column for Legal News.  My activities began with some physical exertion when I made a fruitless attempt to lose weight before Christmas by participating in the Cardiff Magna Carta Legal Walk on 8 October.  This involved a stroll from the Crown Court via the Millennium Stadium to the Civil Justice Centre before moving on to the Magistrates’ Court and thence back to the Crown Court.  My participation was limited to a Two Courts Hobble because my knees were sore but I like to think it was appropriate that while people with two legs managed the three courts’ walk, I, with my three legs (including my cane), managed the two courts’ walk. 


This walk was the beginning of an intensive three days.  On Friday 9 October the Legal Wales conference took place at what I call Sophia Gardens but which is now known as the SWALEC Stadium or something similar.  This conference was a great success.  I attended a breakout session on the form and accessibility of the law applicable to Wales which was given by two members of staff from the Law Commission.  The Law Commission’s consultation on this subject had closed the week before and as I had been a member of the Law Society’s sub-committee which had responded to that consultation, this session was of particular interest to me.  The address from the Lord Chief Justice at the end of the conference was both realistic and inspiring.  Congratulations are due to HHJ Milwyn Jarman QC, Keith Bush and their team for their organisation of this conference.


Sunday 11 October at Llandaff Cathedral marked the Opening of the Legal Year in Wales. Thankfully I managed to arrive at the service on time.  Along with the rest of the invited assembly of worshippers I watched the members of the judiciary process into and out of the cathedral in their robes at the start and end of the service.  It was good to see our former president, Jonathan Arter, at the service.  I sat with my predecessor, Tom Danter and his family.  It was a memorable occasion and it was good to see so many lawyers at the service.


After a three day hiatus back at Cardiff Law School I went to Cardiff City Football Club to chair the Confederation of South Wales Law Societies’ Civil Updates Day.  This event is of long standing - I think this was the 17th of them as the event has been held annually since 1999.  I chaired this event for several years, when I chaired the Confederation from 2003 - 2006 and for a few years afterwards and before 2003 Jonathan Hine, the current president of the Confederation, and I used to help with the administration on the day of the conference.  So it was good to see Jonathan again and to chair this event for probably the last time.  The speakers were uniformly excellent and included Mark Harvey from Hugh James, Glenn Newbury of Eversheds and Mick Antoniw AM.  We were accommodated in the chairman’s suite and I must say that the chairman’s view of the pitch is much better than the view I get from my season ticket.  And his seat is better, too.  But I expect that I enjoy the matches I go to far more than the chairman does.  I don’t think he’s attended any home matches this season.


That evening I changed into my dinner jacket for the ICAEW annual dinner at City Hall.  Yes, the ICAEW held its annual dinner on a Thursday.  How many people do you think went to the dinner?  450. Yes, 450 chartered accountants and their guests went to a formal dinner on a Thursday evening.  And they drank, too!   This was a superb evening which featured a very polished but still funny speech from Steph McGovern, the BBC Breakfast show’s business correspondent, and a number of awards given to accountants for their success in examinations.  This was an excellent way to welcome younger members of the profession and to celebrate excellence.


The Society has responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on criminal advocacy.  Sarah Grace drafted the response and it will be placed on the Society’s website shortly.  Thanks very much, Sarah, for your hard work and for producing such an excellent and thoughtful response.


When I became president I decided that I would like my year to feature visits from prominent people who would speak to and meet members of the local profession.  With this in mind, I invited two speakers to come to address the local profession at evening meetings in the autumn.  Both accepted my invitation but neither has come.  The first of them was Julie Brannan, the SRA’s director of education and training, who will come to speak to us at Capital Tower on Thursday 14 January 2016 at 5.30.  Julie will be speaking to us about the SRA’s proposals for assessing competence which should, by then, be the subject of a consultation by the SRA.  I hope that you will come to listen to her and to make your views known to her.  Cardiff and District law society will be responding to that consultation.


The second speaker I invited was Catherine Dixon, the new chief executive of the Law Society.  She will be visiting us on Thursday 21 January.  I’m not sure whether we will be able to arrange an evening event for her to meet the local profession but I hope that will be possible.  I am hoping to attract other speakers to visit us in the New Year. 


This is the last issue of Legal News in 2015.  It has been a tough year for a lot of local practitioners.  The criminal legal aid tendering process, the fears caused by the consultation on criminal advocacy, the criminal courts’ charge, the enhanced civil courts fees and further court closures pose ongoing threats to access to justice.  The uncertainty caused by the negotiations and future referendum on EU membership, the uncertainty surrounding the Human Rights Act 1998 and the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights and the uncertain future of the United Kingdom itself given the commitment to greater Scottish devolution and the unclear impacts of the draft Wales Bill on devolution to Wales make this an unsettling time for our state, too.  And we have been spared the terrorist outrages suffered in Paris and so many other cities.  Let’s hope that when the real Santa Claus visits, whether on 12 December at Parc Play or on 25 December throughout South Wales, he can give us access to justice, the rule of law and a peaceful, prosperous and stable world in 2016.  Merry Christmas.


David Dixon

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