The outgoing lord chief justice devoted his final speech in the role to outlining major themes shaping the future of the justice sector – most notably the ‘huge retrenchment’ in what the state is willing to pay for.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd also alluded to the lack of a defined relationship between the judiciary and the government of Wales; an ‘ambiguity’ in the devolution settlement that requires clarification.
‘One is doing so against a position where the judiciary has changed,’ he told Legal Wales on 15 September. ‘It is exercising more intervention, largely as a result of political decision-making [such as the introduction of the Human Rights Act]. The judiciary has to interact much more than it has in the past to maintain its independence.’
Speaking in the context of Brexit, he added: ‘One of the real problems of current legislation is that it is giving the judges too much power. The judges are absolutely adamant that they don’t want the transfer of so much power to them. They want guidance – there is a very big issue there.’
Thomas went on to reflect on what he called the ‘paradox of Brexit’, which he likened to the ‘paradox of judicial independence’.
‘The government has made it clear that it wants a deep and special relationship with the EU, including for example in relation to the enforcement of judgments. But actually, although you become independent of Europe, it requires much more effort from everyone, particularly lawyers, to keep in tune with what is going on. Keeping that relationship going is very hard work and that is what we will have to do for the benefit of everyone. It is a paradox that has not properly been understood.’
In particular, he noted, the UK is going to import the whole corpus of European law which includes changing law in relation to the digital economy. ‘But that [law] is bound to go on changing in Europe. What are we to do? Will we make our changes, or seek to influence [Europe] as they amend their legislation? These are all aspects that have to be thought through very carefully. There is a huge job to do.’
Thomas reflected that this could have a huge impact on legal education, asking: ‘Should we start teaching the law as it relates to the digital economy?’
Wales In Numbers:
- 3,666 Practice Certificate Holders
- 2,721 members in private practice firms
- 135 new trainees starting their training contract in 2015-2016
- 9,100 working in legal services in Wales contributing £700 million to the UK economy
- 419 firms employing solicitors
- 5 Law Schools
- 80.3% of PC holders in Wales work in private practice, whilst 19.7% work in-house