Fifty years ago, lawyers were talking about Europe and sexual offences – but probably more about the Breathalyser.

As the cliché goes, if you can remember the 1960s you can’t have been there. A couple of lunchtimes in the Law Society’s library, thumbing the legal press from the decade-defining year 1967, left me unsure about lawyers.

Fifty years on, we like to imagine that the big story of 1967 was the passage of the Sexual Offences Act, crowning the liberalising reforms forged in the white heat of Harold Wilson’s Labour government. But, judging by back-numbers of the Gazette, Solicitors Journal and Justice of the Peace, the debate on legalising homosexuality had already played out by the summer of love. Even the staunchly establishment Justice of the Peace described it merely as a ‘valuable measure of reform’. 

A much hotter issue was the prospect of Britain joining the European Communities. By 1967 the initially anti-Europe Wilson had come round to the idea and set off on a tour of the six member states. He was accompanied by his bibulous foreign secretary George Brown, for whom the expression ‘tired and emotional’ was coined.

The mission failed, possibly on account of Brown addressing General de Gaulle, the imperious French president, as ‘Charlie’. But the prospect of membership prompted articles on the legal consequences. A consummate foreign office grandee, the Right Honourable Lord Gladwyn, opined that ‘the most obvious way the average citizen’s life would be affected would be perhaps in rather minor matters such as the decimalisation of the currency, the acceptance of centigrade rather than Fahrenheit and (possibly) the introduction of the metric system in weights and measures’. He added: ‘The idea that if we enter we should be flooded with foreign workers is almost certainly an illusion.’

However in an article for Solicitors Journal, the lord chancellor, The Lord Gardiner QC, conceded that membership would involve ‘a transference of legislative and judicial powers in certain spheres’. 

And, giving the lie to the idea that membership of the ‘common market’ was foisted on the British without discussion of constitutional issues, the Gazette noted that the fact of community law having direct internal effect would give it precedence over domestic law ‘from which it follows that the legislation of the parliament of the United Kingdom giving effect to that law would have to be done so in such a way as to overrride existing national law’. 

The Gazette went on: ‘If we join the six, some of our constitutional law will have to be re-written. Looking at the matter from the purely professional viewpoint, the situation is even more confused. The Treaty of Rome refers to the liberalisation of the professions including of course the legal profession. If we joined the community and brought into the commission’s deliberations the problems of another legal system, entirely different from any other system on the continent of Europe and, to add to the confusion, divided into two clear and distinct parts, these problems of liberalisation would inevitably become more complicated.’

Closer to home, the president of the board of trade asked the Monopolies Commission to investigate whether there were any restrictive practices in the professions and, if so, to propose remedies. Meanwhile, the secretary of state for economic affairs proposed to raise the question of solicitors’ charges to the Prices and Incomes Board. This followed a Sunday Times article revealing that the income of solicitors was £1,750 at the age of 30, rising to nearly £5,000 at 65. (Roughly £30,000 and £84,000 at 2017 values.) 

Meanwhile, HM Land Registry announced that it was introducing computers for processing statistics, the task of computerising the register being seen as too demanding. 

Elsewhere in the march of technology, the Breathalyzer became a fact of life in October under the Road Safety Act. ‘The ghastly word has already, in no time at all, become a somewhat unwelcome part of the English language,’ the Gazette noted the following month, instigating a lively correspondence on drink-driving laws. 

But at least one lawyer noticed the summer of love. In July 1967 Solicitors Journal’s column Here and There covered ‘The Hippy Scene’. It concluded: ‘Long hair, beards and moustaches, clothes in which sex differences are no longer significant, crazy ornaments of bells or beads all go with an uninhibited sexual promiscuity and an almost tribal sense of community. In their communal “pads” life is very much a “hand to mouth” affair, at once scruffy and self-indulgent.’

Scruffy and self-indulgent? Even I remember that bit.

Michael Cross is Gazette news editor