Although we are expectantly emerging from this pandemic to some sense of normality, the last 12 months have still restricted events here in Wales, as they have everywhere else in the United Kingdom. Few would have thought that we would, at some point, live in a society where, for example, it would be compulsory to put on a mask before walking into a bank or a courtroom! The gradual lifting of travel restrictions was, of course, welcome, and each restored freedom is, quite simply, a breath of fresh air. A trip to the beach or a walk in the hills brought with it more joy that we had previously experienced. Simple things that we, perhaps, took for granted before lockdown.
Aneurin Bevan, the former Ebbw Vale MP who was instrumental in creating the NHS, once said, ‘Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.’ With that in mind, and as I write this, news breaks that the NHS in Wales has been honoured with the George Cross in acknowledgement of the remarkable effort of all those working in the NHS during the pandemic. The award, which is seldom given to organisations, recognises extraordinary acts of bravery in trying to save the lives of other people. The award, which arrived as the NHS marked its 73rd birthday on Monday 5 July 2021 represents the work of the NHS not just over the last enormously challenging 18 months, but, poignantly, for every single day since its creation in 1948; back to the time of Bevan. Accordingly, and deservedly, each of the four home nations have been awarded this special honour. I am sure that each one of us is thankful for the herculean efforts and sacrifices made by all who work in the NHS and in social care for the professionalism and commitment that they extend to everyone who comes through their doors, irrespective of background or means. The fact that the George Cross is awarded ‘for acts of the greatest heroism or for most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger’ says it all.
We are all aware of the continuing effect of the pandemic on our own professional lives, but what of some of the more ‘social’, online, aspects of life at the Bar in Wales?
In January, the Middle Temple Young Barristers’ Association (MTYBA) held a Pupillage Application Event in Cardiff with local barrister and Middle Templar, Martha Smith-Higgins providing advice to aspiring counsel. It is a central aim of MTYBA to have greater engagement with their members on Circuit and having barristers like Martha giving advice makes events more local and, therefore, more accessible and successful. The event was well attended with plenty advice given on how to effectively promote your particular circumstances and achievements, and how to tailor your application to a particular chambers. It was also a fantastic opportunity for people to get to know their contemporaries in their own area.
In February, the Wales and Chester Circuit held a virtual Bar Mess which, despite ‘Zoom fatigue’, attracted 120 attendees, including Master Derek Sweeting (Chair of the Bar) and ex-Circuiteer, the Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
As we know, the logistics of an online event such as this can often be fraught with difficulties such as the usual ‘you’re on mute!’ cries, the odd private observation becoming an unintended but hilarious public heckle and the occasional, accidental, or otherwise, complete vanishing act from the screen. However, the event went off without a hitch and was thoroughly enjoyed by all those who attended. It was enhanced by an individually pre-recorded rendition of Calon Lanby the Circuit choir, beautifully orchestrated by local barrister, Anna Moelwyn-Williams. Despite the success of the event, I am sure that everyone who attended will look forward to a future event when they can hear the choir again, in person.
Back with the youth of today, in April 2021, MTYBA also held their first Welsh Circuit social event. An inspired ‘lockdown’ online gin tasting event, organised by my ever-resourceful pupil and MTYBA’s Welsh Circuit representative, Tabby Walker. Well attended and well-stocked, by post, in advance, we all tasted five different award-winning gins with guidance on tasting provided by Helen from the Gin Tin Bar. I must confess, after the first three, such is my unrefined palate, I could not tell the difference between the ‘seaweed infused’ and ‘lemon pepper’ tonics, but it was a fascinating event with many laughs. I highly recommend it to you. It was both interesting and great fun. Afterwards, we kept the Zoom link open in order for the attendees to have a chat and get to know one other. The evening was a great success, with really positive feedback received the following day. Tabby will be organising a rum tasing event in autumn, so keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of that next social event and please join in to support MTYBA and have a bit of fun, wherever you are.
Finally, this missive from Wales cannot conclude without a mention in despatches about the retirement of our beloved ‘Regimental Sergeant Major’ and adopted Welshman, Colin Davidson. As many of you know from first-hand experience, Colin has been an integral and invaluable part of our Inn for over 33 years. His retirement from the Inn feels like the ravens are leaving the Tower! The Inn will, of course, survive and prosper, but it will feel a very different place without Colin’s insight, support, humour and, above all, his friendship. In his time, what Colin has helped the Inn to achieve and the support he has given to its individual members are just too numerous to include here. He is also much loved in his home nation and he was instrumental in and enthusiastic about setting up the Middle Temple Wales Circuit Society (President – Master David Lloyd-Jones). I know that despite ‘retirement’, Colin’s immense talents are already being lined up for use in his beloved North Wales so, when he leaves us, he is not going ‘gentle into that good night’. He will, of course, be invited to future Middle Temple Wales Society events (we hope to have our inaugural, belated, dinner on the 12 November 2021) but this time with Colin as a guest rather than an organiser, so that he can simply turn up, enjoy the occasion, and fully appreciate the Welsh sparkling wine! As Colin leaves Domus, as the second stanza of the Welsh National Anthem reminds us, he heads away to luxuriate in the ‘old land of the mountains, paradise of the poets, every valley, every cliff a beauty guards; through love of my country, enchanting voices will be her streams and rivers to me’. Thank you Colin and pob lwc.
Master Michael Jones was Called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1995. He practised from Chambers in Swansea and Cardiff before joining the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in 2009 as the first Senior Crown Advocate in Wales. In 2018 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. He is a Member of the Membership Committee and the Employed Bar Steering Group, Secretary of the Middle Temple Wales Circuit Society, Vice Chair of the Employed Bar Committee of the Bar Council and Chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Rugby XV.