Dyson book

My book "Justice: Continuity and Change" has recently been published by Hart.  It contains a selection of the many lectures and speeches I gave during my career as a judge on topics broadly related to justice and the law; but it also includes personal pieces about my life that have nothing to do with justice or the law.

At the book launch, Supreme Court Justice Lord Briggs said that there were a number of reasons why the book is a "must read".  Read it, he said, and you would pick up, almost by osmosis, a quiet but persistent support for equality, human rights, the rule of public law as a spur to good government and the need for the preservation of access to justice for all.  The content of the book nowhere requires you to be a legal specialist, or even a lawyer at all; but lawyers would not go away half-fed: "So put a hard copy by your bedside" he urged. 

He said that the speeches address the important, controversial issues of the day.  They include the tension between affirming human rights and the protection of society from terrorism; the difficult boundary between religious freedom and the rule of law; the contest between judicial review and the authority of elected government and how access to justice is to be preserved in the face of reduced public funding and the excessive cost of litigation. 

Finally, he said that there are "lovely nuggets" like my speech at the Runnymede celebration of Magna Carta in June 2015; my valedictory in Court 4 in July 2016; and my speech to my old school in Leeds Town Hall in 2011. 

Most of the lectures and speeches are concerned with an aspect of justice in the widest sense of the word.  They are not the work of a philosopher, but of an intensely practical and (I hope) principled lawyer, who has a keen sense of fairness and justice.  One of the longest pieces "Are the judges too powerful?" discusses the difficult question of how far it is legitimate for judges rather than Parliament to change or develop the law.  This is an increasingly important issue which should be of interest not only to lawyers, but also to anyone who is concerned about politics and society. Identifying the circumstances in which it is permissible and right for a court at the highest level to change the common law so as to reflect changes in social and economic conditions is one of the most difficult challenges facing our courts.

No prizes for working out the thinking behind the title "Continuity and Change".  Continuity in the law is important because it provides stability and a solid foundation on which people can base their behaviour.  Frequent changes can be destabilising.  Judges tend to be cautious people.  Hence Continuity.  But sometimes even judge-made law has to change either because experience shows that the law is not fit for purpose or because it is not appropriate for the currentzeitgeistor because later judges are more liberal or simply more adventurous than their predecessors.  If the law was made by judges in the first place, it may be right for judges to change it.    

In another lecture, I discuss the question of whether the exercise by unelected judges of their judicial review powers has gone too far and is undermining democracy. 

A related topic is the subject of "Criticising Judges: Fair Game or Off-Limits"?  In this lecture, I discuss the sometimes grossly unfair (and sometimes ludicrous) criticism of judges by the media and politicians and what, if anything, judges can and should do counter it.   

Another theme that runs through some of the pieces is my passionate interest in human rights.  The lecture "What is wrong with human rights?" criticises politicians and those parts of the media that have been hostile to human rights, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Strasbourg Court.  I conclude that this hostility is born of the arrogant belief that we English know best and have nothing to learn from foreigners.  My general support for the Strasbourg Court pervades other speeches too.

The personal pieces (or what Lord Briggs calls the "lovely nuggets") include a speech entitled "How my Classical Education has affected my Life".  This is perhaps timely in view of the revival of interest in the Greek and Roman world under the inspiration of people like Mary Beard. 

Finally, the Epilogue "Changes in the Law in the last 50 years" is likely to take senior members of the legal profession on a nostalgic voyage of memory and to leave the younger members of the profession incredulous about how things were done at the time when I started to practise. 

Justice: Continuity and Change is published by Hart Publishing

Lord Dyson was a Justice of the UK Supreme Court from 2010 until 2012 and the Master of the Rolls and Head of the Civil Justice System in England and Wales from 2012 until 2016.