“It’s not fair”

On Thursday evening the Purvis Society was delighted to welcome over fifty members of the School to the ALT for the third in this term’s lecture series. Our speaker was Mrs Dawn Goodman, an international litigator, published legal author and, to quote the Law Registry, “a doyenne of the litigation process”. We were especially pleased to see several junior members of the School join us for this presentation.

Beginning with a brief exposition of the Codex Hammurabi, written in 1772, in which 200 or so “simple” rules are laid out to guide civilized behaviour (with appropriate sanctions) and with a quick bounce back to Magna Carta (law for some?), Mrs Goodman asked if the dispensation of justice was any better today. Commenting that once upon a time poor judicial decisions were punished by the sacking of the judge, she referred to Judge Peter Bowers, who recently freed a convicted burglar on the grounds that it took courage to burgle someone’s house! The comment was made that he would have been sacked by the Babylonians for this decision… Thankfully, Mrs Goodman stated, British judges are not career people, having served a long and difficult apprenticeship before being honoured with an appointment to the Bench. This was contrasted with the French system (career judge) or the American system (elected). “Should justice be free?” was considered next; ‘possibly’ is an answer, but who pays and how much does it cost? Various statistics followed, with the intriguing figure of £3.2bn of legal export benefiting England. The legal aid system came under scrutiny, accompanied by the suggestion that the French (£3 per capita expenditure from legal aid) and the Germans (£4) are clearly expected to pay for their legal advice whereas in Britain (£34 per capita) we are not! As a litigator herself, Mrs Goodman was clearly delighted to declare that London was a thriving venue for litigation: which apparently is great if you are female, if suing for fraud or libel or are trapped in a commercial dispute; but lousy if you are male and suing for divorce, or if you are being sued for fraud or personal injury or, basically, for anything if you don’t have the cash!

Having laid a substantial foundation of ideas following her chosen theme she then took a quick look at the actual structure of the courts (whilst unable to resist quoting from Charles Dickens’s brilliant satire from Jarndyce v Jarndyce) and then moved on to the idea of equity and some of the equitable maxims which seemed to most of the audience to be based upon common courtesy, an avoidance of hypocrisy and common sense. Poking gentle fun at Heather Mills McCartney and her £24.5 million divorce settlement from Sir Paul, Mrs Goodman considered how much the law was designed to protect the weak and whether things had now gone too far. Quoting several prominent divorce cases she pointed out the escalation in settlements as a proportion of the total family fortune and diverted our attention briefly to the intriguing legal difficulties presented by the Sir Jimmy Saville case and the impossibility of prosecuting someone no longer with us. Winding up her presentation she took us on a swift journey through justice in different countries (euthanasia – legal in Switzerland, it’s murder in GB), working hours (the French really do work less than we do!) and, of course, different countries’ attitudes towards under-age sex (France again…) and the differing attitudes of judges around the world, quoting one case on which she worked where the judge hardly ever appeared in court!

The whole presentation was brilliantly supported by a wealth of Powerpoint slides and illustrated by many anecdotes from her long career; there were stimulating questions from the audience at the end and discussion continued over dinner, as usual superbly presented by Executive Chef Jon Smith and his team.

JCEM