Blog: CLA conference 2015

Blog: Commonwealth Lawyers Association Conference 2015

April 2015

CILEx President Frances Edwards reports on the Commonwealth Lawyers Association Conference held in Glasgow in April 2015.

Frances EdwardsThis was the 19th Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) conference. The CLA exists to maintain and promote the Rule of Law throughout the Commonwealth by ensuring that the people of the Commonwealth are served by an independent and efficient legal profession. The CEO/Solicitor-General is Katherine Eden-Haig. The President was Mark Stephens CBE (although his Presidency was handed over to Alex Ward from New Zealand at the end of the conference).

These conferences take place bi-annually in member countries and are well attended by representatives from the 53 commonwealth states and those working in those countries.

From the UK, there were representatives from The Law Society, The Bar Council and The Law Society of Scotland. CILEx is a Corporate Member of the CLA and is in fact the newest member. I attended with our Chief Operating Officer, Helen Whiteman. CILEx had an exhibition stand manned by John Westwood and Kathryn Jack. The stand was extremely busy throughout the conference.

The theme of the 2015 conference was to reflect on the issues surrounding our globalised world and the opportunities and challenges this brings for lawyers, with particular emphasis on the Rule of Law.

There was a full programme so both Helen Whiteman and I alternated to cover as many sessions as possible between us. Helen was also tweeting from her sessions so that CILEx could re-tweet to members. One of the most striking things was to hear how well represented women are in senior judicial positions overseas, in some instances 50:50 with male counterparts.

Sunday – 12th April 2015

I arrived in Glasgow for the conference. Registration was at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) where the exhibition stands were set up and this was where the conference took place. Our stand was already set up and busy. There were other stands and sponsors including The Law Society of Scotland, The Law Society of England & Wales, SRA, Bar Council, Lexis Nexis.

The evening’s formalities commenced with a Drinks Reception at the SECC. There were welcome speeches from Mark Stephens, the President of the CLA and Alistair Morris, President of The Law Society of Scotland. Music followed from a 3 piece band, the Ian Muir trio, who were all wearing tartan. Well, what else! They got our feet tapping and you won’t be surprised to hear that the general theme throughout the conference was bagpipes and drums.

Lord Chief Justice John Thomas was present and came over to say how pleased he was to see us there. We met a number of delegates from Ghana, and New Zealand and spoke with Alex Ward who was the Vice President and due to take over the role of President at the end of the conference. We also spoke with Lady Justice Heather Hallett.

Monday, 13th April 2015

When we arrived for the opening ceremony, there were already drummers on the stage. A dance troupe did the Highland fling and Scottish reel, setting the scene.

There were opening speeches from Mark Stephens, President of the CLA, and Austin Lafferty, Past President of The Law Society of Scotland and a message from the Queen was read out.

Alistair Morris, the President of The Law Society of Scotland told us about the general theme of the conference and introduced the keynote address from Lord Gill on the “Independence of the judiciary and legal profession”. Lord Gill is Scotland’s longest serving judge. He talked about the history of Glasgow. He noted that Judges and Lawyers are together at this conference. He said the legal system must be responsive to change. I thought he gave an entertaining and interesting speech.

There followed various sessions throughout the day with a lot of choice to try to suit all.

My first session was on “Modern Law Firm management – should non-lawyer ownership be endorsed and encouraged?”. The Chair was Malcolm Mercer (Canada), and the panellists included Andrew Grech of Slater & Gordon, Stephen Gold (Scotland) and David Ofosu-Dorte. This session opened discussions on improving access to the legal system, stating gaps are increasing and there are too many barriers. Lawyers and non-lawyers could work together. ABS are being set up and there are approximately 350 in England and Wales including KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PWC UK. We were told that in Australia, the mix works. Ethics and professionalism is maintained by robust regulation. We heard that Lord Dyson is recommending “Her Majesties On-Line Court”.

Malcolm Mercer told us that Canada has similar problems to the UK. Many people are not using lawyers. Either they cannot afford it or do not see the benefit. They have qualified lawyers and licenced paralegals and they are all looking for work. Big businesses have economies of scale. Customers want price certainty and they have embraced change by introducing fixed fees which works as they have invested in their work-flow to standardise letters and procedures.

I also attended a session “On the wrong side of history – sentenced to death in Bangladeshi”. This was chaired by Mark Stephens. On the panel was Geoffrey Robertson QC, Toby Cadman and Hamid Khan, CLA Council for Pakistan.

This related to War Crimes 40 years ago and the trials that have since taken place in Bangladeshi. We were told that over 1 million people were killed, although this is an estimate. Toby Cadman was the barrister who had represented some of the Defendants. He told us of the legal process and how, in his view, it was flawed, resulting in the death penalty for some of the Defendants, on the basis of less than firm evidence. These Defendants are being executed. It was a very emotive session and many of those present felt that the CLA should do what it can to make its concerns known. A comprehensive report was called for to work with the system to improve it. There were mixed views and feelings during the session.

Monday evening concluded with a Dinner hosted by Lexis Nexis and CLA on “The Business for the Rule of Law”. We were welcomed to the Glasgow City Chambers by (more) bagpipes. This was a very impressive building, as you would expect. I met with and spoke with Joshua Rozenburg. I was on Table 1 with Mark Stephens and Lord Jim Wallace MP and a representative from the sponsors, Lexis Nexis. There was a keynote speech from Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell KCMG QC and Director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law who explained the history of the building and the paintings around the room depicting the history of Glasgow.

Tuesday, 14th April 2015

As I was taking part in a panel debate called “Adapt or Die”, most of Tuesday morning was spent preparing for the panel session in the afternoon. My panel session attracted a lot of attention as there were over 60 people present. I was on the panel with Stephen Gold (Scotland) and Malcolm Mercer (Canada). I was the first to speak and made the audience aware of the CILEx route into law, without going to University. I explained CILEx achievements over the last 50 years, tackling elitism, widening access to justice and to the profession including diversity. I was also able to explain about the legal services in this country and the changes being considered in view of the legal aid cuts and business needs.

There were questions from the audience about the challenges being faced in the different countries some of whom are more wealthy than others. The paralegal market and lack of jobs were discussed. I was able to explain about the CILEx option for on the job training and attracting graduates under our GFTD. There was a view that educating lawyers should include practice as well as knowledge so they are ready to work and so there was a lot of positive interest in the CILEx route.

I also ended the session with comments about the different types of law firms in the UK and the changing needs of the consumer and the need to know your market, be innovative and look for opportunities.

I was delighted to hear that some of the audience had visited our stand after the session and gave positive feedback as well as wanting to know more about CILEx.

The final session we attended on Tuesday was “Corporate social responsibility – legal duties and beyond”. This was chaired by Robert Carr and the speakers were Professor Irene-Marie Esser and Grant Wedge.

Tuesday concluded with a Drinks Reception hosted by The Law Society at The Flying Scotsman, The Corinthian Club in Glasgow to which we were all invited.

There had been some controversy on Tuesday with the introduction during the day of a video link with Julian Assange, who is said to be a “fugitive from justice”. This caused a stir and resulted in some of the speakers, particularly members of the judiciary, withdrawing from the conference.

Wednesday, 15th April 2015

Helen Whiteman and I attended a session called “Street Law”. This is a pilot run in schools in Scotland to encourage young people and to raise awareness of the law and careers in law. The session was presented by Heather McKendrick and Rob Morris both from The Law Society of Scotland. The material handed out consisted of a hand-written note and a list of questions. At the session we were asked to consider who may have written the note. We were eventually told that the note had been written by Michael Morton who had been found guilty of murdering his wife and sent to prison, but 24 years later he was proved innocent. It was a great way of getting audience participation and made for a lively session.

The other session on Wednesday that I attended was “Protecting the protectors – the role and responsibility of the profession in supporting the Rule of Law”. This was chaired by Alistair Morris and the speakers were Andrew Caplen (President of the Law Society) and John Suzi-Banda. They gave the audience up-dates of recent changes.

Wednesday night concluded with The Gala Dinner at Kelvingrove Art Gallery which was a hugely impressive building with a great mix of artwork – both historical and contemporary. The event was very well attended. We mingled well at the drinks reception and had many photos taken with the attendees from the conference. Helen and I were lucky to sit with friends from Ghana. During the dinner we were entertained by Singing Waiters and the entertainment concluded with the Red Hot Chili Pipers, a mix of drummers and bagpipes playing modern music. Everyone was on their feet calling for more.

Thursday, 16th April 2015

This was the final day and conclusion of the conference. The closing ceremony was chaired by Mark Stephens. We had a keynote speech from The Honourable Michael Kirby who spoke about the history of the commonwealth and human rights. The Hon Michael Kirby is Australia’s longest serving Judge. In 2010 he was awarded the Gruber Justice Prize and served as a member of the Eminent Persons Group investigating the future of the Commonwealth of Nations. He gave us some background information about the EPG and advised us to share the language, share the law and share the principles of Magna Carta, respecting each other.

Over the few days of the conference, the 14th commonwealth moot competition had been taking place. There were representatives from countries including Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, South Asia, Canada, and Africa. The winner of the Moot competition was Canada and the mooters were presented with their prizes.

There was also a presentation of the Rule of Law Award to Upul Jayasuriya, who is the immediate past president of the Bar Association in Sri Lanka. He told us of his wish for harmony on the Rule of Law.

There was then the exchange of the flags from Mark Stephens (UK), the current President, to the new President, Alex Ward (New Zealand). In conclusion we were told that the next CLC will be in 2017 and they are calling for tenders. There will be an interim (mini) conference based on Commercial business in Cyprus on 19th and 20th May 2016.

The Conference, by and large, had been very successful and Glasgow will be a hard act to follow.

Fran Edwards