Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Law Society's President at St Mary's Stadium

Hampshire Incorporated Law Society (HILS) held its Annual General Meeting last night at the hallowed grounds of Southampton Football Club at St Mary's Stadium and I was delighted to be invited to attend.  As someone who is Southampton born and raised and a Saints fan, albeit in  completely armchair and ignorant fashion, it was a thrill to be there.

One of the guests at the meeting was Andrew Caplen and I remembered Andrew from a previous AGM for the Hampshire local law society I had attended in 2000 when he had been elected as their President.  Time of course has moved on and earlier this year, Andrew was elected as President of the national law society.  At HILS, we are naturally very proud that a Hampshire solicitor is the head of the Law Society and so it was a rather special meeting as a result.

Inside St Mary's stadium

It was fascinating to hear the very varied range of events and activities Andrew has been involved with already during his term as President. He explained that one of the first points he had dealt with was the controversy concerning the loan company Wonga. It had been reported that Wonga had been writing to some customers using the guise of entirely bogus legal firms and the Law Society had stepped in and requested that the Metropolitan Police investigate this activity.  Almost before he had a chance to sit down in his new role, Andrew appeared on Newsnight being interviewed by none other than Jeremy Paxman on the debacle. Fortunately, Paxman was rather on Andrew's side in the discussion.

Andrew recalled he had been questioned about the European Arrest Warrant particularly when it became clear that Judges, as is often the case, were not very keen to be interviewed personally about such pressing matters.  He had also been involved in discussions about sovereign debt restructuring which, he commented, was thankfully less intimidating than it might sound.

One of Andrew's themes in his discussion was looking forward to 2015 and the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta.  In particular he will be a guest at the Global Law Summit and Andrew explained that one of the main points of discussion will be the importance of the rule of law.  Of course with all the current international instability it is perhaps unsurprising that this is the case.  Andrew's particular interest in the concept was how it related to access to justice, that is to say the rule of law could only be effective if citizens actually have access to justice and can exercise legal rights in a court of law.

The role of President of the Law Society clearly involved a lot of travel, both within the UK and abroad.  Rather movingly, Andrew told us how he had attended at an event in Japan and had been amazed to find himself one of a small group of people selected to meet the Emperor and Empress of Japan.  As well as making contact at this level he had also sought out a visit to a unit dedicated to tackling domestic violence in Japan to learn more about how different countries deal with this.

Throughout the evening, Andrew noted that the one person he couldn't seem to meet was the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling.  He had met him prior to becoming President and told an amusing story about correcting a speech that was connected to this yet he had not, despite trying, been able to see him after becoming elected as President.

Again and again Andrew returned to the problems facing legal aid and criminal law practitioners.  Despite extraordinary efforts, despite numerous presentations and proposals it seems the government are simply not listening.  Even more depressingly, Andrew suggested it seems that even if there were a change of government at the next election, it was unlikely that this would change greatly.

It had been an enjoyable evening, assisted with a delicious meal at St Mary's, and some very thought provoking talks were given.  Andrew Caplen is clearly enjoying being President, and quite rightly so, but this flows from his natural energy and passion for what he is achieving in the role. We at HILS continue to be very proud of our Hampshire President.

St. Mary's at night

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