Posted 15.10.17

The Opening of the Legal Year 2017

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(...and judges that take selfies!)

President of CDLS, Rachelle Sellek, was invited to the opening of the new legal year on the 2nd October 2017. We asked her to share this incredible experience with our members in a full report!

It is a bit of a historical anachronism but the legal year is still divided into terms, much like the academic year, although this largely only relevant nowadays to contentious lawyers. The legal year begins with the Michaelmas term which this year began on 2 October and runs until 21 December followed by the Hilary, Easter and Trinity terms.

The legal year begins with a service in Westminster Abbey. This tradition dates back to the middle ages when apparently judges left the city and walked the two miles from Temple to Westminster Abbey to pray for guidance at the beginning of the year.  Tradition reigns and the ceremony remains a highlight with about 700 people attending the service. 

I was privileged this year to be invited to participate in the service on behalf of the Law Society and to represent Cardiff & District Law Society. 

The ceremony is dominated by the judiciary with judges, senior judicial officers and Queen’s Counsel making up the majority of those involved. About 20 people represented the solicitors’ profession including the President, Senior and Junior Vice-Presidents of the Law Society, a few Council members and about five representatives of local law societies. It was also a very international affair with lawyers from around the world invited to attend.  I met representatives from Finland, Turkey, Australia, Kazakhstan, China and Turkey amongst others.

The ceremony itself was preceded the evening before with a drinks reception and dinner hosted by the Law Society at Chancery Lane. Joe Egan, President of the Law Society spoke of the history of Chancery Lane as well as the principles the profession upholds. 

The following morning we reconvened for breakfast at Middle Temple Hall and more speeches from Joe Egan and the Chair of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC. Again history was very much in evidence with Middle Temple Hall dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and where the first ever performance of Twelfth Night took place with Shakespeare himself in attendance.

After breakfast we moved onto Westminster Abbey. Thankfully, for those of us in heels, we didn’t have to walk the two miles. I imagine the judges travelled in cars but the rest of us were bussed across and through the security cordon.

If there is one thing the British know how to do well it is pomp and ceremony and Westminster Abbey provides a seriously impressive setting with all the judges and QCs in ceremonial dress. Those of us who were going to be part of the procession into the Abbey had about 45 minutes milling about and it was heartening to see that most of the judges were just as excited as the rest of us to be there with many of them taking selfies and posing for photos. 

Earlier that morning the new Lord Chief Justice had been sworn in as had Baroness Hale as the first woman to be President of the Supreme Court and Lord Justice Lloyd-Jones the first Welsh member of the Supreme Court and a number of new judges had been sworn in. For those of us on the solicitor side, we could have done with a visual key to help identify the various robes and know which judges belonged where (the overseas visitors had been issued with a description for each but I think the organisers must have assumed those attending from the home nations would know their judges). Helpfully the Supreme Court judges have 'Supreme Court' embroidered on the back of their robes!

The service itself begins with a procession of the judiciary into the Abbey led by the Lord Chancellor. There are a lot of judges and QCs and the procession itself takes about 15 minutes. The solicitors also got to process although we didn’t follow the judges and came in a separate entrance to take our seats. We might have been in the minority in number but we got fabulous seats, right at the front where William and Kate said their vows and the Queen was crowned.

The service was conducted by the Dean of Westminster. The newly sworn in Lord Chief Justice read as did the Lord Chancellor. After the service we processed out again and across the road to Westminster Hall where the Lord Chancellor’s lunch was held. Apparently in the Middle Ages it was anyone taking communion was required to fast for several hours beforehand and so it became customary for the Lord Chancellor to offer 'breakfast' to the judges before they returned to court. The queue snaked round Westminster Hall – I thought it was for lunch but it turned out to be the queue to meet the Lord Chancellor! 

It was a great day and one that not many solicitors get to participate in and it will remain one of my highlights of my years as President of Cardiff & District Law Society.

Rachelle Sellek

CDLS President

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