Interview: A strategic eye on Legal Education and Training in Wales
The Law Council of Wales (established to promote legal education and training and awareness in Welsh Law, the use of legal technology and innovation, and support the economic development and sustainability of the legal sector in Wales) has announced the focus of its first two working groups - one of which is Education and Training in Welsh law. Emma Waddingham, Editor, spoke to Professor Emyr Lewis, Aberystwyth University & Vice President of the Law Council of Wales, to explore the group's aims and ambitions of its work for the legal sector in Wales, and how those in the sector can contribute.
Emyr, You have been briefed to lead one of the first two Working Groups for the Law Council of Wales. What will your group focus on and why?
This Law Council of Wales Working Group will look at Education and Training in Welsh law in the main. If we start with the original concept for the Law Council of Wales it might help provide some context as to why this is important.
The Law Council originally looked to model itself on an equivalent Scottish initiative which brings together practitioners, academics and the judiciary. Its principal purpose is to promote the knowledge and understanding of the law in Scotland. That was the original vision for the Law Council but of course Wales is not Scotland. Things are different here in Wales and there are other things that we want to be able to do, and so the Law Council of Wales will be much broader than that. Hopefully the recent interview with Lord Lloyd-Jones, President of the Law Council of Wales will explain what it sets out to do.
However, the aspect of Education and Training in Welsh law is still a really important part of the work of the Council. Where Scotland has centuries of tradition surrounding the law in Scotland, in Wales, our Welsh Law heritage is comparably recent, and academics looking at Welsh law up until very recently have tended to look at medieval Welsh law. Of course, we are no longer in the Middle Ages – we have modern Welsh law to consider.
This is also a challenge for the legal profession – in terms of knowledge and understanding of what the law in Wales is and how it operates. Because technically speaking, the law in Wales is part of the law of England and Wales.
It’s a strange idea that there is only one law of the territory called England and Wales, but that it is different in different parts of the territory – – it’s a bit of a paradox. What this means is that every person that practices law in England as well as in Wales should have knowledge and understanding of how the law in Wales works.
It’s now common for undergraduates to study the law of Wales in undergraduate course but this does still tend to be very superficial – a broad understanding of the very basic principles of the devolution settlement. As a result, there’s a gap in terms of learning Welsh law at university level. This includes the details of how the Welsh settlement operates and the various specific laws and legal principles that are different in Wales.
There is also a gap in the knowledge and understanding of practitioners and (occasionally) judges across England and Wales. Although this gap has decreased in recent years, there is still rather a lot of anecdotal evidence from reliable sources about solicitors and barristers applying the wrong rule when they are dealing with cases in Wales, whether that’s in the context of litigation or in transactional work. There is a need for the Law Council of Wales to consider that problem and to think what might be done about it.
The Education Working Group will look at two elements through two separate project teams: firstly: the curriculum for Welsh law at university. What would you study if you were to study Welsh Law? How might you construct that course? Secondly, this working group will look at the public and professional understanding of Welsh law.
We don’t expect to completely crack either of these two challenges as each member of the group – and Law Council of Wales Executive Committee members – are working on a voluntary basis. But at least we can start the preparatory work to address what are quite serious gaps in professional and public knowledge in terms of an understanding of the law in Wales.
There are many challenges in educating individuals and the legal profession in Welsh law. Have things improved over the years?
I think the legal profession has a much wider understanding now than it did. Fewer now make the assumption that the law is always going to be the same. In many practice areas, professionals will know there is a difference in Welsh Law but it’s impossible to keep up with all the laws and their nuances.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is that there should be an awareness that the law might be different – and where to find out if the law is different and how.
A good example of a proactive approach to this was something that happened as a direct consequence of the establishment of the Law Council – the dialogue we have had with the SRA about how the SQE1 examination might more fully take account of what solicitors should know about the law in Wales, from day one – a really fruitful and productive conversation.
The group’s work then progresses, as we’d expect, the proposals for a wider understanding of Welsh law as set out by the Thomas Commission. Your work would naturally require an engagement with the legal sector, particularly in Wales. Will you seek to reach out to stakeholders as part of the process?
At present, the Working Group is composed almost entirely of people from the various Welsh universities but I am very keen to ensure that the working group has got a broader membership than that.
It would be great to have practitioners who are involved in training, those working in continuing education, in recruitment and possibly those representing the judicial college – as well as representatives from further education.
We need individuals who can pass a critical eye over what the project teams are generating.
Opportunities to do this will be communicated in due course.
What are your hopes for group’s work - and, once any analysis and suggestions have been prepared, what’s next?
I’d like to think that in a year’s time we will certainly have made progress towards defining the content for a course in Welsh Law.
At present, we’re considering some sort of masters qualification – a postgraduate qualification or at least components of a broader masters qualification of some kind.
It would be ideal if something could be delivered collaboratively by institutions, in a similar way to some masters courses in other fields where you can say there’s a specifically Welsh flavour, such as education.
About the Law Council of Wales
To learn more about the work of the Law Council of Wales, who sits on the Executive Committee and how to contact the Secretariat, visit the new website: lawcouncil.wales