Confederation Report (December 2008)

I found myself in Richmond, North Yorkshire (doing a weeks prosecuting for the Army) whilst the broo ha-ha of the US elections was taking place. It is a lovely town, but, it being filthy cold and wet, I decided the best thing to do was succumb to the enthralling lure of Darlington versus Bury in the Johnsons Paint Trophy quarter final. As one does if one is a masochistic geek who is bored rigid, staying in a tee-total, non-smoking, guest house which was a 555 yard walk away from the nearest light. Downhill going, uphill (one in twenty gradient) coming back. In a monsoon. And if the alternative to recreating Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow to reach the dubious safe haven of a Weatherspoon’s pub called “Shinner Sidebottom’s Jock Strap” (or something very like that), was sitting on a hard chair and peering myopically at the 3-inch TV in my oh-so cosy (Estate agent talk for “couldn’t swing a very small rodent in here”) room, I decided to take the car some twenty miles to the match.

It was undoubtedly the most boring sporting event since the Scottish rugby 15, celebrated a 0-0 draw with the All Blacks in 1905.The tedium was only relieved by the 138 Darlo fans chanting to the 42 Bury fans opposite (yes, yes I actually counted them) “Come on a moped, you must have come on a moped!” (to the tune of “Guanta la Merra”).

I left at half-time with the score at 0-0, the highlight having been the centre half for Darlington having made a ten yard dash into the centre circle then colliding with the ref and, somehow, loosing his shorts.

I then had to wander around for ten minutes, to find someone to let me out. Those canny folk in charge at the ground obviously not being willing to let out even one of the few souls stupid enough to enter, thus risking the loss of the electric atmosphere.

“Off to see ‘ow Brick Ooobamba gets on are yer, Luv”, said the charming lady prison warder who was eventually persuaded to open a vast steel door to allow me to escape.

There being little else of earthly delights remaining to me, having feasted on what purported to be beef stroganov with chips (rice not an option) a little earlier, I did just that.

There was the historian Simon Sharma, waving his hand about and, disconcertingly, rotating his neck as if practising being one of Henry V11’s head removal victims (AND he wasn’t wearing a poppy which even the Yanks on the show were), and offending every one else on the panel by uttering outrageous comments about the US. Why him anyway? Just because he has recently done the serious version of Steven Fry’s jaunt around the US, I suppose, (even though I like Steven Fry, I am getting fed up when he says “Good Lord!” to everything he is shown, from a basket made from twigs to deer poo being smeared on to his coat so that he will not spook the poor beasts as they wander into some redneck’s telescopic sights).

Anyway, they showed the two candidates doing their last speech before the actual vote. Mr Obama was streets ahead of the jolly geriatric McCain. Lucid, well briefed. Sounded like he understood something about the world’s economy (which is just as well since he is now going to be in charge of it) and very dignified. The other fellow just reminded me of Elmer Fudd, the clueless hunter, being made an idiot by Bugs Bunny. Sensibly, the Democrats had kept their prospective Vice-President well out of the way (he having apparently invited a wheelchair bound senator to “Stand up” to receive an ovation at a rally early on in the campaign).

Of course the Republicans had no such qualms about letting Mrs Palin spout off on everything from foreign policy (which seemed to me to be based on the fact that she had apparently seen Vladimir Putin digging a silo for his latest nuke across Alaska Bay from her bedroom window), to economic policy (based on “Hockey Moms”(?) and “Rottweilers - buying lipstick!”- a simile that is beyond me).

And whilst I was feeling rather amused by all the technical wizardry of a map of the US being made all sorts of different sizes and colours, accompanied by some anorak impersonating an over the to horse racing commentator on speed, I, rejoicing that, despite this being a two horse race, our elections are so much simpler and less time consuming, it suddenly struck me. This really matters to those of us inhabiting our rock somewhere to the West of Europe.

If they get it wrong Stateside, we will suffer. So the faint ridicule and smug humour I had felt, turned into real anxiety. What if the polls had been hoodwinked, and the voters went behind the screens, voted for Elmer, having decided that they could not, after all, vote for an Afro-American? This despite the fact that he is so obviously better suited than a bloke, bravery notwithstanding, who has every prospect of not being able to finish his term of office, having been packed off to the “Krusty the Clown Happy Home for Successful Time Accumulators“, and leaving in charge “Bloodthirsty Barbie” in sexy specs, expensive short skirt, clutching a smoking Winchester rifle and a dead Moose at her feet?

Thankfully, at about 2.30am, the “Change We Need” and “Yes we Can!” (why can’t they get sentence structure right, and why doesn’t Bob the Builder sue?) posters were being waved triumphantly, so I allowed myself the “luxury” of retiring to my less than comfortable bed.

But, notwithstanding the real quantum leap that the US electorate made, what can the new guy do? He has said he needs another three trillion dollars at the beginning to kick start his economy, he has pushed all the right buttons about getting out of foreign wars, but is it really achievable?

Greedy bankers, terrorism, plunging markets and inevitable opposition from the soon to be disenchanted portion who don’t immediately benefit, are going to impede him. And what happens over the pond will affect anything that we can do.

The only comfort is that it has all happened before, and the planet survived. We just have to impersonate a herd of cattle, stick our heads down, turn our backsides into the storm, and keep going.

I remember dear old Sol Joseph, the doyen of the one-liner and tale of strife, holding court in the court canteen at what is now the Crown Court, during the recession of the late seventies.

“Always remember” he said, “things have always been worse at some time, and politicians are fatally flawed by either wanting to be, or allowing themselves to be, elected”.

When asked to elaborate, he told us that he had been posted to Burma with 19 squadron in 1942. He had to have all his hair shaved off because of the lice that infested him, was sleeping in a leaky tent with an amazing array of creepy-crawlies, was living off sloppy corned beef, flying a clapped out Hurricane and being chased daily by a lot of very much faster Japanese fighters.

Having evaded several of these deadly machines and returning to his airfield, he flew over a Royal Navy Destroyer which promptly shot him down! He crash landed in a paddy field, with no controls working, and, tragically killed several native farm workers in so doing.

Far from being set upon by the surviving farmers, he was carried on their shoulders to the resident mayor, who thanked him and gave him a bag of rice!

“After that” he told us “I never worried about much, and never trusted politicians”.

So whilst I really do think that the new Pres is much better than anyone for some time, I remain cynical as to a quick turn around and a rapid gallop back to times of plenty.

On the Confederation front, I am afraid that the Credit Crunch has had an effect on our plans. The annual Autumn courses were down on the numbers attending, although were, thanks to Mike Walters’s ability to sell snow to Eskimos, still profitable. The expansion project is just not viable at present-people have more important priorities, and their budgets are stretched. We have therefore decided to offer free membership of the Confederation for 2009 to those who are not members through their local Law Socities – see the form on page 11. Please make the effort to join!

The announcement of the much hated Legal Services Commission being put to the sword, comes as no surprise. Instead of “Well done Thou Good and Faithful Servant, for implementing our policies and ridding us of a good few thousand of those pesky Publicly Funded Lawyers”, it was more- “well now the guards have shot the prisoners for us, let’s shoot the guards! That will save us a few more bob.” But, whilst secretly thinking “Told you so”, it is simply another slightly larger portion of the wedge being inexorably pushed into the painful place.

It is also going to be interesting to see what effect the now imminent single fee for Crown Court cases has. The Bar, not surprisingly, are worried. They thought they had a deal with the Government. Now they will have to hope that at least a minimum fee will be allowed. Since there are young barristers in London agreeing to do whole days in the Magistrates Courts for nothing, on the basis they can do any matters that make it to the Crown Court! That must encourage strong arguments for the Mags retaining jurisdiction.

In one way Solicitors will have some level of self determination, but at what cost? Can we, with our limited number of Higher Court Advocates do the whole job? And how many excellent Barristers will be lost to an already creaking “Justice” system? The CPS already do twice as much in the Higher Courts themselves, so this new move could be disastrous for the independent Bar.

Enough dear reader, of doom and gloom. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. OK Santa may be visiting clutching a Lidl carrier bag, rather than his bulging sack, mounted on a tin tray and pulled by a hamster called “Eric”, and the turkey may have to be more the size of a wren this year, but there is always the police driving crackdown to look forward to.

A client of mine was stopped only yesterday. The officer said “you were doing 38 mph in a 30 area sir! Show me your licence please.”

“Sorry officer, I’d give it to you, but I’ve lost it four times for drink driving”

“I see sir, well can I have your insurance and registration please?”

“Again, sorry officer, but I stole this car.”

“Stole it sir?”

“Yes officer, and I killed the owner. She is in the boot. Want to see her?”

Not surprisingly the policeman is a bit worried by now, so he asks my client to place his hands on the bonnet, and calls for assistance. Within minutes a host of paddy wagons, a swat team and a Detective Chief Inspector arrive. The latter goes up to my client.

“My officer tells me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner whose body you have placed in the boot, sir! Open it if you please.”

“How extraordinary” says my client opening the boot, which is empty.

“He also tells me that you are a banned driver, with no tax or insurance sir.” says the DCI, “Me?” says my client producing his licence and documents, all valid.

“Well sir, this is strange.”

“Yes” says my client “And I’ll bet the lying swine said I was speeding as well!”

Nadolig Llawen, Mumf

Simon Mumford

Chairman, Confederation of South Wales Law Societies

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