Law and the order of things

You wait months for a good judicial speech, then four come along at once.

This October there’s been Baroness Hale’s contribution to feminist judgments (see page 60) and her justified criticism of her brother judges’ membership of the all-male Garrick Club. There’s also been the Lord Chief Justice’s lecture on the influence of the King James Bible on the law, where he explored divine right and the role of Parliament, tracing a line from Jacobean bishops to the Petition of Right and eventually Oliver Cromwell.

Two other interventions have more direct ­relevance to the current practice of law: one by Mr Justice Vos on the role of judges in the ­success of UK plc and the speech by Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger on justice in a time of economic crisis and in the age of the internet.

The clear news angle – and the one explored on last week – is that both Vos and Neuberger are arguing that the courts should ditch paper completely. Both have implications for lawyers’ day-to-day work processes, but Vos and ­Neuberger also make wider points about dispute resolution in a globalised, teched-up world. For both, judicial efficiency underpins civilised society and the ability of individuals to access and enforce their legal rights, which has contributed to making
London a world-class legal centre.

What’s even more intriguing is Neuberger’s vision of the function of a court in a wired world. He argues that back-office space freed up from the storage of documents could be used to house legal advice centres or public legal education for schools. In which case the question is, who would run this? It’s not going to be publicly funded, but there’s a potential model in the ­collaboration trialled on the Prime work experience project, where 23 law firms have ­combined to create a practical social initiative (The Lawyer, 12 September).

There’s been much talk about the Rolls Building operating as a palpable hub of legal excellence. Vos sees this as part of UK exports, while Neuberger calls the public trial process the state in microcosm. A visible manifestation of private organisations’ commitment to the rule of law and civil society would operate not only on the practical but also, importantly, on the symbolic level.;