Soft Spur

A.W.B. Simpson

  • What next in the Law by Lord Denning
    Butterworth, 352 pp, £9.95, July 1982, ISBN 0 406 17602 7

When the publishers announced yet another book by Lord Denning, the fourth in three years, and one with the alarming title What next in the Law, I recall feeling a sense of foreboding: what next indeed? Recalled shortly after publication because of some unfortunate remarks about juries and the nature of society (subjects upon which judges, if one reflects on the matter, are not likely to be well-informed), What next in the Law is once more available, albeit with the naughty bits removed. The central theme of the book is law reform, and it is explained in the preface that Lord Denning has fallen to musing on the fate of shelved commission and committee reports. ‘So I thought: some spur is needed so as to get things done. Then I added, with undue presumption: My book shall be the spur.’ Some parts of his book are indeed devoted to such matters as the fate of the Pearson Commission Report on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury (1978), though I note with sadness, but without surprise, that no tears are shed for the Williams Committee Report on Obscenity and Film Censorship (1979), which was perhaps too liberal for Lord Denning’s taste. Much of the book, however, has little direct connection with the avowed aim of goading the mandarins into action, and I suspect that Lord Denning enjoys presenting his pensées to the British public, who, my informants in the publishing trade assure me, buy them like hot cakes. We have observations on the wearing of wigs (‘Some say it is out of date. Maybe it is’), on contingent fees (‘Never, never allow lawyers to work on the basis of a “contingency fee”’), on judicial attitudes to the European Convention on Human Rights (my favourite: ‘Sometimes we find it helpful. Sometimes not ... ’) and on a discriminatory Lloyds Bank Pension scheme (‘Its pension schemes were excellent’). There is also much history, presented in a chatty style uncomplicated by heavy scholarship. Indeed, to judge by his account of the death of Blackstone, Lord Denning appears to think study is positively dangerous:

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