Archive for October 24th, 2007

It wasn’t me M’Lud… it was my brain…

After trying to cope with the idea that lawyers may not be around in 100 years (See below, next post down: Frances Gibb article) I went for lunch, picked up The Times and read a piece by Raymond Tallis, Professor of Medicine at The University of Manchester, on ‘the dubious rise of neurolaw’.

The article is fascinating and well worth a read. (Thanks to Mark Bennett in Comments I now have the correct link to the original article)


If the truth be known, I have, on occasion, ‘felt an alien force in my brain’. It is called ‘over refreshment’ in my case… a bit too much of the juice. But… not partaking today.

Professor Tallis starts his article with the sentence: “His brain just broke.’ These were the words of an American defence lawyer in a recent trial involving violent rape.”

I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading this article… but, to encourage you… let me give you a taste: “The brain is usually blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction. People do not normally deny responsibility for good or neutral actions such as pouring out a cup of tea. This is a pick ‘n’ mix approach to human action and intent, and grounds, I would say, for treating the ‘my brain made me do it’ plea of mitigation with some suspicion.”

Apparently, US academics and lawyers are getting very excited about this, particularly defence lawyers. Vanderbilt University (USA) recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and ‘hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience’.

I am not a neuroscientist. But Professor Tallis does state in his article: “As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience…. can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”.

I am not a Criminal lawyer either… but ‘insanity’, diminished responsibility, automatism’ seem to come back into my mind from a distant past as I read these words. Fellow UK blogger Simon Myerson QC, who does know what he is talking about on matters of Criminal law, responded in the Times. I enjoyed reading about this at lunch… refreshing to read something thought provoking in the 45 minute daily break. Mea culpa… I do read some complete nonsense at lunch, it has to be said…. but not today.

Now, my brain tells me it is time to get on with some work. However, my brain has also told me that I may go for a glass of Rioja at 6.00, if I am up to it.


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An interesting speech by Lord Phillips on the Jury (23 October): “Trusting the Jury”

In his address, Lord Phillips, announced the establishment of a working party, led by Lord Justice Latham, which will examine simplifying the legal directions judges give to juries. Do they need over complex directions, or should they be trusted to use their common sense?

Lord Phillips said: “I have been concerned at the number of directions that are given to juries that are no more than matters of common sense. Most judges are familiar with seeing jurors’ eyes glaze over as they give a series of directions the object and effect of which is not to simplify the jurors’ task, but to protect against an appeal on the grounds of misdirection.”

Geoffrey Vos QC, Chairman of the Bar writes (11 October): “The Bar Quality Advisory Board will be launched next week. It will make a huge contribution to quality at the Bar, by allowing us to quantify incidents in which Judges and fellow professionals believe barristers have fallen short of their usual high standards. The BQAP will provide a mechanism to advise and assist barristers in need of help, and enable us to rebut unsubstantiated anecdotal suggestions of low standards”

Frances Gibb had an interesting article in The Times yesterday: “Will lawyers exist in 100 years: Join the Debate”. I received an email from Richard Susskind, who has written to friends and colleagues he has worked with over the years to encourage people to join the debate. Voice your thoughts?… your views?

To give you a taste. Frances Gibb ends her article with these words: “So Susskind predicts that if lawyers do not embrace new ways of working, then in 100 years, or less, people may sit in comfort in a converted court-room, as they do now in some of London’s converted banks, and “appropriately nourished, speculate in a leisurely manner about solicitors and barristers… who were these people? What was their craft? Why do we no longer have them… and what brought about their end?”

And finally…

If you are interested in the hearings of the Public Administration Select Committee into Propriety and Honours: Lessons Learned. Guido Fawkes has some interesting content.

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