CASES THAT CHANGED OUR LIVES
General Editor: Ian McDougall
OUR FAMOUS COMMON LAW CASES
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
General Editor, Ian McDougall, was always going to have a problem with the selection of case law for this volume! It does not matter what you select, there will always be cases which are excluded although, inevitably, Donoghue –v- Stevenson must feature in the cover picture although Mrs Carlill is missing.
Lord Neuberger sums the selection up well by saying that the cases provide a ‘great insight into the common law’. He goes on to describe the essays as drawing out the many different ways in which the common law shapes the world, demonstrating its great strength- its ability to adapt to change and experience. He then concludes that the essays provide ‘a truly informative and accessible contribution’ to our understanding of the common law and its legacy.
McDougall’s Preface describes how the compilation took place and the structure of the book with its substantial number of eminent contributors. The aim of the book is simple and direct- all lawyers have an in-built need to revisit the great cases of the past.
What is perhaps most noticeable from the essays are the insights into the people and the circumstances behind the decisions actually made in the past, and the human face which is presented ‘which is not always apparent from the law reports’.
When we read the details of many of the cases set out here – mainly ones we were familiar with as students- it became obvious that this work has a much wider readership than lawyers and students. Recent TV programmes often refer to old cases which have a charm (or a concern) all of their own for the general public. The main cases are listed at the front although the index gives much help in tracking down the cases and the issues they cover.
McDougall has structured the book of essays in 7 parts to reflect both the important substantive law areas and the ranging controversies of the time, namely: public law; land law; criminal law, civil law; the right to life; the state and terrorism in the twenty-first century (which is actually about liberty); and finally family law.
Each part starts with some opening remarks and there are some extremely important conclusions which do reflect the orthodoxies of current judicial thinking although what Lord Denning and some early judges would make of judicial decision-making in some decades will forever remain unanswered although we could invite law students to surmise! The book is actually excellent for law students who, we are sure, will flick through to their own favourites- hopefully if they recognise the names.
In the search for improvement in law, where issues are settled for good or sometimes not so good, Ian McDougall paraphrases Thomas Jefferson- ‘we now do that with the pen that we previously did with the sword’. When reviewing ‘famous’ cases, or cases of ‘celebrity’, we can also refer to another American, John Adams, whom Neuberger mentions and quotes- ‘we live in a world governed by laws not men’ probably hits the right note for the Foreword as we modernise our legal thoughts, although the charm and nature of our common law has, in our view, to take account of the men who made the decisions as well- it adds the essential human element to the human condition of case law!
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