Confederation Report (August 2009)

This has, as I write, been a very good week indeed.

England have beaten the Ausssies in the Lords Test match for the first time since 1934 (Oh Freddie! You are now legend!) I know it is far too soon to crow, but doesn’t it feel so good? Ricky “the grumpy teenager” Ponting sitting on the balcony looking like he’s swallowed a wasp whilst sucking a lemon (he was quite gracious in defeat to be fair, but you know he’ll have thrown cups, bats, washing machines around that dressing room), Mitchell Johnston spraying the ball around like an inebriated tom cat, Umpires making mistakes around Aussie wickets that usually go against us. And all this following the triumph for Cardiff the week before. Not to mention the “Jimmy and Monty get out of jail show”. I’m just glad I’m writing this now – the “Yellownoses” will no doubt have a dastardly plan for Edgbaston. Like playing really well or something.

Did I go? Well I had planned to go on the Thursday, but got stuck in a trial which “went long”. Saturday and Sunday were out because of a golden wedding do. And Monday I learnt would have meant a 4 am start. And I would have got there at about the time the game finished. Sort of sums up my “sporting summer”, but of that more later.

Young Tom Daley is the 10 metre World Diving Champion (and that is a long way up, and down for someone like me, who gets a nose bleed if he’s wearing thick socks).

Manchester City (Fred Flintoff is BIG City fan by the way) are buying a squad that is sending a shudder through inhabitants of the “Big Four” (and Manyoo folk can forget the hypocritical clap trap about “Buying Success” – you’ve been spending vast sums ON donkeys, FOR donkeys years!).

And Oh Yes! I nearly forgot. The Legal Services Commission has in effect put Best Value Tendering for Criminal Defence Services on the back burner.

Now of course this was just cost cutting attempt (dressed up as an effort by the current administration to “….obtain the best value for money, by purchasing services at the right quality[!!!!] and paying the right price for those services.” [i.e. thruppence two farthings per day. Including travel]).

The best thing about this is that the rage of practitioners has been the deciding influence.

Sir Bill Callaghan (no – I have no idea what he has had to do with the practise of law either) starts his foreword to the consultation report as follows (and I am sorry it’s a bit long, but is it extremely illustrative)

“During this second consultation we have held 55 events throughout England and Wales and met 1295 practitioners to discuss our proposals. These events and the 1503 written responses (mine I can assure you, was as vitriolic, belligerent and as scathing as anything I have ever submitted) we have received have made it clear that the legal profession has very strong concerns about the impact competitive tendering could (sic and SICK!) have on the criminal legal aid market”

This “Criminal Legal Aid Market” being the equivalent nowadays to a “Poundstretcher” store or a WVS Soup Kitchen.

Sir Bill goes on “…..Serious concerns that the proposed timeline for piloting BVT and conducting a subsequent evaluation would not allow for a meaningful review of the longer terms impact of price competition, or the feasibility of BVT as an effective procurement mechanism.”

In simpler language “Ooh err! This might not be such a good idea after all!”

Then “Your views have informed and challenged our thinking and we have been considerably influenced by what we have learnt.”

My reading of that particular phrase is “We thought you’d all gone away! We give up.”

But and this is an obvious face saving exercise by this “dead in the water” bunch;

We do however remain convinced that TESTING BVT through a piloted approach is the best way forward.”

So Avon/Somerset and Greater Manchester will be having this pilot starting next July (2010), BUT there is no more “roll out” of BVT “more widely” until 2013.

I reckon that that is a “turning up of the toes” in any language. “Ding Dong” the witch is dead”.

What is not said, of course, is that by next MAY we will have had a general election. With any luck the “Brown Stuff” will have had a “thoroughly good thrashing” by Joe Public, and a new Government will be in place by the time that the pilot is due to launch. So is this just a way of leaving a few “time bombs” ticking away, so that in three or four years, when in opposition they can say “Well we did have plans to make everything absolutely wonderful. What a shame you kicked us out JUST when we were getting it right!”

So now we have to hope that the next lot are not as mad, bad or downright silly.

Try as I might, (and possibly because they are being coy about winning), I have not managed to wheedle out of the Tories what they will do. All I could glean (and don’t repeat this to a living soul will you!) is that provided there has been no massive expenditure, then the Conservatives will not bother with the “experiment”.

Which means we will have won. Hooray!

What it does NOT mean is that we are going to be able to return to a land of “sunlit uplands”. The damage has been done, I fear. Some three THOUSAND firms are out of the frame, there is less interest from trainees and newly qualified Solicitors and Barristers than ever before in joining those remaining at the coal face of criminal litigation and legal aid work (and who can blame them?), and the recession has resulted in the lowest number of Training Contracts and Pupilages being available than for decades.

We can only hope that the ludicrous plans to cut representation order eligibility for defendants in the Crown Court will also slither away as well. I just hope that the new incumbents will look hard at the cost of interpreters and experts. Making them part of a public body and paying them a decent wage, instead of giving them a blank cheque, will cut the legal aid costs hugely.

I should imagine that all those firms who felt they had to give up, or amalgamate (with all the costs that caused) will be feeling extremely aggrieved.

What it might mean is that there is a change to “steady the ship” and push for reforms that will really help. A moral victory then and maybe the “End of the Beginning of the End”. The SRA giving up the running of Accreditation Panels is a firm step in the right direction as well. Keep breaching folks……. The bogey man may be on his last legs!

On a lighter note, I have just returned from a trip to South Africa, in the company of a number of ex-Narberth Rugby lads. We did it on the cheap, making Cape Town our base, (a brilliant City extremely reasonable prices for everything, especially food and errr…..drink), but rather a long way from any of the test venues on the High Veldt.

And we got tickets for the last two tests in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg. Oh Joy!

Until we learnt that an air ticket to the Tests was going to cost over a thousand pounds, or that to drive there was going to take three days each way.

So we stayed in Cape Town, and watched the games on a big screen, in a very nice Bistro on the waterfront. And the Lions were great, more than a little unlucky to have lost the series. (If you aggregate the scores, we won.)

Since I wasn’t travelling for the whole week, I took the opportunity to visit the courts (I know, I am a truly sad individual who needs to take up a hobby!), but it was only because, having discovered that Man City were playing a pre-season tour match in the city that day, I travelled to the stadium, which was quite close to the courts. (They weren’t playing until two weeks later, and it was in a different city, and the stadium was half built, with the construction workers on strike. The hotel porter, who told me, had got it wrong; see what I mean by my terrible “sporting summer”?).

Anyhow, I went to the court, met some really nice South African lawyers, had a drink with them, and learnt a lot. They have a very different system to ours, but the biggest bone of contention over there at the moment, is that the Government has stopped giving work to firms who have had the temerity to act for people who oppose them. Does that sound familiar?

This apparently goes hand in hand with the fact that the Western Cape Region (which is where Cape Town is) is not controlled by the ruling ANC party, but by the opposition. Which has resulted in Cape Town being frozen out of holding any sporting events (although the football World Cup next year will have matches, if the stadium is finished in time, and if the public transport system is good enough by then, and if they can guarantee that there will be enough food and drink for the thousands of fans [sadly not us Welsh!] who will arrive en masse).

So it’s not just here that we have a stroppy, grudge holding and unreasonable Government.

Actually, most of this “gen” came from an incredible lady taxi driver called Boethe. She it was who took me on my ill-fated tour to the “match that never was”. (I thing she was the hotel porter’s sister!) She told me the most scurrilous joke about Michael Jackson that I have heard. Couldn’t possibly repeat it. Except it had to do with poor lovely Farrah Fawcett Major arriving at the Pearly Gates, St Peter telling her that because of all her great accomplishments she could have one wish, that wish being that every child in the world being safe from harm, and Mr Jackson arriving five minutes later. Terrible. Shouldn’t be allowed.

Now just watch all the conspiracy theories begin- he and Elvis are running a massage parlour in Grimsby, there is a love child born of Princess Diana, Bubbles the chimp was actually an FBI operative who had served with the US Marine Corp in “Nam……..”

However, the most incredible “cultural” experience we had there was not, as you might, defamatorily, suppose dear reader, the all day trip to the wine region in Stellenbosch where under five quid gets you a two hour ten glass sampling session and some very nice cheese (we did go to four vineyards, I admit, but of course spat out the mini mouthful we were given without swallowing – honest!), nor the cable car trip up Table Mountain that the rest of the lads went on (ME? Must be joking – being pulled up thousands of feet in a box held by a piece of string? No way. Nor did I get into a cage to have my toes nibbled by a Great White Shark either! Not after my childhood encounter with a truly vicious starfish on Pendine Sands).

Nor the trip to a fabulous restaurant on a beach where you could watch Whales frolicking whilst you ate Ostrich steaks (I feel a Richard Fisher moment coming on).

No, it was the trip to Robben Island (Robben is Dutch for “Seal” by the by). Quite apart from the appalling conditions that Nelson Mandella, a fellow solicitor of course, and the other political prisoners were held in, and the racist diet they were forced to endure, Black people according to the Apartheid regime, did not need protein – just a cup of Maize!), we were taken round by an extraordinary guide who had served eleven years there.

You would think that the last thing he would want to do was to go back. But he does, several times a week, and his commentary is fascinating. Being taken to his “Bed space” – a blanket on a concrete floor – and Mandella’s six foot square cell, was an eye opener.

Above all he is not in the least bitter. He genuinely believes his (and his colleagues) incarceration served a purpose.

He qualified as a lawyer whilst on the island, being taught by Mandela and others. What an achievement. Studying between hacking out limestone and breaking granite blocks with a small hammer. My conversation with him was amazing, and I felt humbled yet inspired by it.

Perhaps Guildford and Chester and Lancaster Gate weren’t such a trial after all!

On the Confederation front, thanks to all who attended the Barbeque, I wasn’t there because of my trip, but I’m told it was great. Many plaudits to Richard, Frances, Mike and Layla for their hard work and support.

We continue our membership drive; have in sight the autumn courses (see pages 8 - 9) and hopefully a winter bash to drive the thought of wet and gold nights away. Although as I write in late July it isn’t exactly Mediterranean! At least we don’t have to worry about a hose-pipe ban.


Simon Mumford
Chairman, Confederation of South Wales Law Societies

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