British legal and judicial influence overseas: law books and conferences

British legal and judicial influence overseas: law books and conferences

Last night I went to a reception in honour of the Tenth Anniversary of a remarkable charity, the International Law Book Facility (ILBF). Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice had been one of its creators, and he told us about its work, both orally and through the medium of a video which also carried interviews with some of the grateful recipients of the books in Uganda, Malawi and Nepal.

In its ten years of operation, the ILBF has sent over 25,000 good quality legal texts to more than 100 organisations in over 40 countries.

I was personally very grateful to ILBF a few years ago, when I was able to offload from my shelves at home a virtually complete set of 28 years of unbound Weekly Law Reports, along with a lot of legal textbooks for which I had no further use. I was told that they were all packaged and sent abroad almost as soon as they reached ILBF’s depository. And we heard last night that the need for law books in less developed parts of the common law world is growing and growing.

Unsurprisngly, a senior legal consultant to the British Council was at the reception. Chris Marshall did wonderful things for A4ID, and he also served with me for a while on the Lawyers’ Advisory Committee for Peace Brigades International (UK), which supports human rights defenders in some fairly disturbed parts of the world. He is now Global Lead, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law for the British Council, and he told me about some of the initiatives the Council is now taking. I want to hear more.

In turn, I was able to reminisce about the time nearly 20 years ago when I served on the British Council’s Law Advisory Committee. It was chaired by Nicholas Phillips, and had Helena Kennedy (a future chair of the Council), Vivien Stern and the late Kevin Boyle among its members.  This led me on to remember my trips overseas to speak at events funded by the Council – in Delhi in 1994, in Cologne in 1997, in Amman in 1998, in Moscow in 1999 and in Beijing and Shanghai in 2000, among others.

I will be posting separately a talk I gave in 1997 in a Schloss outside Cologne to an annual residential get-together of the German lawyers who had participated in the past in one of the excellent visits by European Young Lawyers to London. Nearly all of them were in commercial law firms, but they showed great interest in what we were then doing by way of protecting human rights in the days before the Human Rights Act became law.

I once hosted a reception for the current batch of European Young Lawyers (who were including an increasing number of participants from countries previously behind the Iron Curtain). The reception was due to start at 7 pm in the part of the Royal Courts of Justice which houses the judicial robes exhibition. All the lights went out at 7, and it took us ten minutes to find someone capable of de-activating the automatic switch off. The party went rather well after that.

I also re-met last night Karen Brewer, the indefatigable Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, with whom I worked very closely in the three years immediately following my retirement in 2006, when I was the Association’s Executive Vice-President. She told me of the recent very successful triennial conference of the Association in New Zealand, which the Lord Chief Justice had addressed as a guest speaker. There were about 340 delegates there, drawn from all over the Commonwealth. Sadly, my travelling days are more or less over.

I mention all this, because I have been worried about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s reduction of its investment in human rights-oriented activities overseas, and also by some people’s belief that if in the last resort we had to leave the Council of Europe (because we were no longer willing to be bound by the rulings of the Court in Strasbourg) it would not matter so very much. In my view, anything that reduces the amount of influence British judges, lawyers and legal academics have in describing how our judicial institutions work in promoting people’s rights and freedoms can only be a bad thing, not just for the UK but for the Rule of Law itself.


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