The dignity of the law has come before the dignity of those caught up in its processes. What might happen if that were reversed?
It gives me some pleasure this month to be able to report on the uplifting presentations given on their recent visit by the American judges, Ginger Lerner-Wren and Victoria Pratt. They run different types of court, but with the common feature of placing the dignity of the person appearing before them at the centre of what they do.
It would be easy to be cynical about the likely benefits of such an approach, and no one, least of all the judges themselves, is claiming it as a panacea through which every offender will emerge from court a reformed character. But there are so many life circumstances that can contribute to someone finding themselves in trouble, and even our own, perhaps more care-focused, system is not necessarily designed (and/or resourced) to uncover these and respond in the most appropriate way.
Judges are of all types. Some do indeed make notable efforts to do things a bit differently for an offender, and it can be cautiously suggested that the more notorious figures of not so long ago no longer have their modern incarnations. If the training provided by the Judicial Institute is a factor in that, so much the better. So we are not suggesting that our American cousins have brought some great vision hitherto hidden from our eyes; and they in turn insisted that they were here to learn as well as to share their own wisdom and experience.
At the same time, and with all due allowance for the cultural differences that make it difficult to conceive of some of their favourite case histories being re-enacted in a Scottish court, it was the basic humanity at the heart of their approach that shone through and, let it be admitted, is not something our training as lawyers nurtures. The dignity of the law has come before the dignity of those caught up in its processes. Who knows, re-examining that fundamental point might achieve something remarkable.
AI extends its reach
We are by now used to hearing predictions, and increasingly of actual instances, of how artificial intelligence will affect legal practice in the coming years. Less appears to have been written about its impact on key legal concepts, though the Law Commissions have embarked on an in-depth look at how to cope with self-driving vehicles. Recently, Lord Hodge has delivered some illuminating analysis in a lecture, and raises the question, taken up in our lead feature, of the ability of the common law to cope. We are all likely to be affected; and it will be crucial to devise the means to keep the law abreast of the science.