Society of Legal Scholars

Speech at President’s Reception 2018

This is the speech given by the SLS President for 2017-18, Professor Peter Alldridge, at the President’s Reception held at Gray’s Inn, London on Wednesday March 14.

SLS President’s Reception 2018

Gray’s Inn, March 14, 2018

Guests, Colleagues, Friends

Good evening. Some words of thanks, two awards, a reflection or so and an invitation.

First, the thanks. The Society does what it does through the efforts of volunteers – in particular the Executive, the Council, those who put together the subject sections and those who represent us in various fora. Those people do a tremendous job. Thanks also for professional help to Sally Thomson and Sara Bladon. Thanks lastly to Gray’s Inn for providing the venue for this evening, and for providing an architectural metaphor for the industrial dispute in which some legal academics are currently engaged. We are in the Large Pension room. Somewhere there must be a Small Pension room. Large is better.

Next, the two awards, which I shall ask Richard Taylor, the Vice-President, to present. The first is for the best paper at last year’s annual conference. This goes to Dr David Mangan (City) for his paper ‘Reconsidering Defamation as a 21st Century Tort’. The other prize is for the best poster at last year’s annual conference. The winner of that is Dr Daniel Fenwick, (Northumbria) ‘Incremental global acceptance of assisted dying: two models apparent?’ Many congratulations to both.

Third, the reflections. I consider it a great honour to be the President of the SLS. In my (coming up to) 39 years as an academic, I owe much to many, too many to pick out individuals (but those people know who they are, and some are in this room). I was first a member of the Executive in the mid-1980s, and have served in various roles since then. I have never known it to be in better health. The membership is around 3000. Our range of activities is increasing. The proportion of our income which is disbursed to fund legal scholarship and education is also growing, and this is much to the good. I want to say something briefly about inclusion. I don’t want to introduce any sort of hierarchy of impairment, and there will have been those amongst my illustrious predecessors who had hidden impairments, but it is a matter of particular pride to me that (to the best of my knowledge) I am the first ‘out’ disabled President since Rupert Cross (who was blind) in 1969-70 and as such I do hope to carry forward my immediate predecessor’s (Imelda Maher’s) commitment to equality and diversity. In the last couple of years the Society has been engaging in rigorous self-examination on these questions. One of the expressions commonly to be found in this discourse is that of talking talks and walking walks. If the Society is to talk the talk and walk the walk in the area of Equality and Diversity then from time to time some of the talking will need to be done with something like the wonderful voice synthesizer of Stephen Hawking (whom we mourn) and some of the walking will need to be done with crutches, orthoses and other logistical support. People think differently about inclusion if they know that a member of a particular category is in the room.

My main subject area, financial crime, has burgeoned in recent years. Forty years ago, money laundering was not an offence anywhere in the world, and very few people would have gone into the law of financial crime as a means of making a living. Compare that to today, where financial crime is haut chic. My own LLM Economic Crime class now typically attracts students from well over 20 jurisdictions from all over the world, and many of them end up practising in the area, as prosecutors, defenders, in compliance, or in anti-corruption work with national and international agencies. Financial crime is a difficult area in which to present facts clearly, so as to show concisely exactly what is alleged and exactly what is wrong with it. I do commend to your attention, therefore, the very well drafted ‘speaking’ indictments produced by Mueller’s enquiry in the U.S. Irrespective of whether or not he is guilty, the indictment of Manafort is a masterpiece of clarity and lucidity.

Last, an invitation to the annual conference, which will be on September 4th-7th 2018 at Queen Mary, University of London, a campus University in the East End. The theme will be ‘Law for Troubled Times’, reflecting my own anxiety about the shift in powers towards the Executive to be seen in several of the pieces of legislation currently before Parliament, and more generally in declining respect for Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary worldwide. As well as the PhD conference and 28 subject groups (a number which will grow), plenary sessions will focus on access to justice, the Rule of Law, law and theatre and African women judges, and there will be the (now traditional) Friday afternoon Brexit session.

Mile End itself was the scene of two episodes of great moment for the development of constitutional liberty throughout the common law world. It. First, in 1381 Richard II met at Mile End with representatives of complainants of various human rights abuses (sometimes called the ‘Peasants’ Revolt’). Richard made various promises, most of which he quickly broke. Most importantly, he reneged, as soon as he was outside pitchfork range, on a promise to abolish serfdom. Serfdom in England did not then end till the C 16th. The Mile End episode is important because it was the first large scale indication that anyone minded. Never mind Hayek, Mile End Road was the beginning of the road from Serfdom.

The promise Richard did keep, a couple of years later, was to put in place a law dealing with judicial corruption. Hence 6 R II c 3, a statute addressing bribery of judges. It is a model public sector corruption statute and formed the basis for the judicial oath until the C19th. It was a big thing. Magna Carta (sort of) got you into court, but if you can bribe a judge, there is no Rule of Law. If you cannot, there is a chance. It may not have been wholly due to the meeting with Tyler et al that the statute was passed, but it was certainly one of their demands and it was met.

Roll the clock forward 380 years. If I were to say ‘where did John Entick did live?’ you might say ‘Stepney, because that’s what it says in the law report’. That is sort of right. It might get you a high IIii. What the law report actually says is ‘John Entick, of the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney’. The church of St Dunstan, Stepney (which is indeed in Stepney) is about 1000m due south of Queen Mary (which is in Mile End). In Saxon times the parish of St Dunstan stretched from the City of London to the River Lea, including the Isle of Dogs and extending two or three miles north of the river. The parish was big, and was divided into hamlets. Over time some of the Tower hamlets acquired their own churches and ‘seceded’ to become independent parishes. By the 1760s only four hamlets remained within the parish of St Dunstan. They were (1) Ratcliffe (Wapping, Shadwell, Limehouse and bits of what we would now recognise as Stepney); (2) Poplar and Blackwall (Poplar, Blackwall and the rest of Stepney); (3) Mile End Old Town; and (4) Mile End New Town (Mile End had that Edinbourgeois Old Town/New Town thing going on).

Entick was not a penniless revolutionary. He was fairly well off (he could afford to litigate), he was a snob and was interested in and rather fond of money. His 1766 guide to London shows that he knew to a farthing the income of every clergyman in London. In that guide he notes Ratcliffe and Poplar and Blackwall as having a maritime flavour – seamen’s widows’ hostels, publicans and implications of drunken sailors. We know from other sources that those areas were known for smuggling and light-fingered dockers. And Execution Dock was at Wapping. In short, the riverside hamlets were a bit rough for Entick’s tender sensibilities. His account of Mile End, on the other hand, was quite different:
‘[Mile End] … in which we see the spirit of building carried on with such alacrity that the great road from Mile-End turnpike to Bow is almost closed in on both sides with regular well-built brick houses and well inhabited by people of good circumstances.’

This could have been written by an estate agent. I therefore conclude that Entick lived in Mile End, and I will show you precisely where if you come to the conference. It is to a search in Mile End that we owe Lord Camden’s resounding judgment, limitations upon Executive power, the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and all the other stuff, down to the very recent decision of the Irish Supreme Court in Criminal Assets Bureau v Murphy.

So that’s my pitch to you – Mile End, crucible of constitutional freedoms and home of SLS 2018. I very much hope you will join me there. You will be most welcome. Thank you for coming. Enjoy the rest of our evening.