Welsh lawyers join forces in City

At the time of writing a ’yes’ vote was widely anticipated in last week’s referendum on whether to widen the National Assembly of Wales’ ­legislative powers.

Such a vote would mean that in the 20 areas where it has devolved powers, including health, ­education and the environment, the Assembly would be able to pass laws without having to go to ­Westminster first.

Under the current system, asking permission to pass laws from Westminster can take as long as three years. A ’yes’ vote would not widen the areas where the Assembly can make laws, but would alter the law-making process.

The referendum has been ­criticised for being unduly ­technical, and Welsh lawyers based in London – far from the goldfish bowl of Welsh politics – could be forgiven for losing touch with the latest developments.

But the potential change to the legislative process, which would include areas such as economic development, housing and ­planning, coupled with legal ­developments that have occurred since the Assembly was founded in 1999, would have a real impact on how lawyers – and their clients – operate in the country.

This is where the newly created Association of London Welsh Lawyers (ALWL) comes in. The association is the brainchild of five Welsh lawyers based in London: the first counsel general to the National Assembly Winston ­Roddick QC; 39 Essex Street ­barrister Hefin Rees; Winckworth Sherwood partner Stephen Wiggs; Goodman Derrick partner John Roberts; and Sharpe Pritchard solicitor Emyr Thomas.

Its aim is to encourage an understanding of the development of Welsh law, legal practice and its constitution.

The Society of Scottish Lawyers was established in 1987 and the London Irish Lawyers Association was founded six years ago. Thomas, ALWL’s secretary and treasurer, admits that he was surprised there was no Welsh equivalent.

“A few of us got together and decided to found the association essentially because there wasn’t anything similar in London,” he says. “The object is to encourage understanding of the development of law in Wales, especially as there’s now an increasing difference in legislation between England and Wales. It’s also a way for London-based Welsh lawyers to keep
in touch.”

The association already has 40 members and later this month will formalise its constitution and elect its leadership. ALWL held its ­inaugural meeting on 14 February at the House of Lords and, despite it still being early days, managed to attract a number of high-profile speakers. They included Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Judge, the former attorney general and secretary of state for Wales Lord Morris of Aberavon, who has agreed to become the association’s president, and the Assembly’s director of legal services Keith Bush.

“So far we’ve had a great response and we had an excellent turnout at the first meeting,” says Thomas, who is originally from Ammanford, Carmarthenshire. “We’re keen on all branches of the legal profession, and in particular those at the start of their careers, becoming involved. One aim is for people entering the profession to have an opportunity to meet with Welsh lawyers who’ve moved to London.”

The College of Law’s London branch has already distributed membership forms to its students, and the ALWL is looking to help students in placements and ­training programmes and arrange lectures and seminars.

Looking ahead, Thomas says the association is considering plans to hold joint events with community group Wales in London and hopes to hold around three events a year combining topical debates and social functions.

“In terms of the future direction of the association, we’d like, in say three years’ time, to be an ­association with a large and active membership, with a reputation for putting on top-quality speakers’ events, and which is well-known among the London-Welsh community generally,” says Thomas.

So whether it is a ’yes’ vote or not, there is plenty for the ALWL to get its teeth into.