Old Boy's Legal Insights at Tillotson Lecture
Friday, 13 December 2019
This year’s Tillotson Lecture was given by The Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder. An Old Boy who attended the Boys’ Division from 1962 to 1976, Sir Ernest is now the Senior President (Chief Justice) of Tribunals in the UK, a Lord Justice of Appeal in England and Wales, a Privy Counsellor and the Chairman of the Administrative Justice Council. He spent much of the afternoon speaking with pupils and answering their questions before taking the stage in the evening to speak about the changing face of justice.
He began by posing the same question he was asked in his Cambridge interview: why do we not have a national legal service? To answer it, he gave a comprehensive overview of the past, present and future of the justice system.
First, he looked back to the 1940s, when the Government tackled the “Five Giants of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness” and ultimately established the Welfare State following the 1945 general election. However, there was a sixth Giant: Injustice, or the denial of access to justice.
He went on to describe the Justice ecosystem: a system of systems, which also encompasses Parliament, the police and the prison service in addition to the courts and legal profession. In such a complex structure of organisations, reform cannot be viewed in isolation and Sir Ernest advocated a much broader, holistic, ‘joined-up’ approach similar to that taken with the other five Giants. With this in mind, he set the audience a challenge: “to examine the justice system as a whole with the aim of slaying the sixth Giant.”
He advised that such a task would require those responsible to be critical of the choices made in the past, realise that they might not have been the best choices at the time and not assume that they are the best choices now. He then advocated principle as the starting point, and identified and described his four basic principles of the justice system.
Next, he questioned how these principles might be implemented. He went into some detail through his speech about the ways the sixth Giant of Injustice has been addressed so far, from the creation of the Legal Aid and Advice Act to further development of Tribunals and ombuds schemes; increasing online access to justice; the modernisation of courts and tribunals; and even the potential use of AI to determine the most appropriate pathway to justice. He also talked about moving from an adjudicatory to a problem-solving approach: justice systems around the world are now working to prevent disputes in the first place. He held up as an example the United States model of Interdisciplinary Team Practice, which aims to put the parties in the best position to resolve the dispute themselves.
In closing, Sir Ernest said, “If we – if you – are to … help slay the Giant of Injustice, to ensure that we can render to everyone their due, it is time to rethink how we deliver justice – preventative, consensual and adjudicative. It is time we take a new approach to it, treating justice as a system of systems each with a necessary, funded and complementary role. If we do that, then our justice system will be properly fit for the twenty-first century: for your century.”
Following his address, Sir Ernest took a series of questions from the audience. He offered his advice to those who aspire towards a career in the legal profession and said that advocacy, problem solving, decision-making and empathy are all crucial skills for a judge. However, he also noted that many careers, from medicine to architecture, also require these same skills and recommended that pupils go and see the law in action to discover if they have a passion for it. He also recommended having a plan and thinking practically. When asked questions about juries, he warned against interfering with the random selection process to make juries proportional and talked about the skills that individuals bring to the jury room. Looking to the future, he agreed that the UK will one day likely have televised court cases, especially since high court cases and significant civil cases are already being livestreamed, but warned that it would be unwise to do this with live evidence. He also spoke briefly about how media reactions to the judiciary, especially recently with regard to the ruling on Article 50, have affected judges negatively, but also said that it’s good for everyone to have a view about justice.
The Tillotson Lecture series was established in 1971 at the behest of the late Mr Marcus Tillotson. Since then it has become a major event on the Bolton School calendar and has attracted eminent speakers across the years, including a number of notable Old Boys like Sir Ernest.
This year’s Tillotson Lecture took place in the same week that the Girls’ Division hosted a public talk from prominent anthropologist Professor Alice Roberts.
Share or bookmark with: