In my thirty years of teaching law, I have taught Contract, Sale, International Trade, Tort, Equity, Roman Law and……. Jurisprudence, now a subject (sadly) not often to be found on the syllabus in the modern law schools.
It was, therefore, with some interest that I read James Dean’s excellent short piece in The Law Society Gazette on the the case of the devout Christian hoteliers who have to pay damages to a gay couple for discriminating against them. James Dean extracts the wonderful opening of Judge Andrew Rutherford’s judgment…. I extract, but a small part. It is worth reading in full.
In 1882 Her Majesty Queen Victoria opened a new court building. It is in the Strand just at the entrance to the City of London. It was built to house the superior courts of this land with the exception of the House of Lords. No one who enters can fail to be struck by the similarity of the great hall with the interior of those gothic cathedrals with which this kingdom is so richly endowed. But if, before entering, you gaze upon the façade of the building you will notice four statues……
James Dean asks the question: Are the law’s Judaeo-Christian roots withering?
Given that Britain leans ever more to secularism, given that the Church of England and, is no longer at the very heart of many families’ lives and given that we are an eclectic peoples of many faiths, for those who do believe, I rather suspect our Judaeo-Christian legal roots (if indeed our laws were actually based on a deep understanding of those mores – a complex issue) are withering in favour of the positivist norm of law – a human construct – beset with all the frailties of the human condition, yet one, I would argue, more rational than the social engineering and control of religion used by the rulers and the state in our lands in days long gone, but still convenient to the rulers and law makers of other lands.
Judge Rutherford did make the point that modern laws do cut across religious beliefs. Times have changed. The laws have to address many interests and, of course, are the product of the values and agenda of those who hold power in governments of the day.
It is an interesting issue. I won’t, however, launch upon a lengthy exposition or disquisition on the legalo-philosophic base of our laws in the 21st century. I shall leave that to my rather dull brother, Professor RD Charon (pictured right), an embittered academic who wrote many books and articles which few read. I recall that he gave me a signed copy of his magnum opus…. The moralo-ethical construct – in praise of natural law and rebuttal of Hart’s Concept of Law. It is no longer in print – mercifully. He could only afford to self publish ten copies.
Anyway… back to Judge Andrew Rutherford. Good to see a judge doing a bit of writing in judgments. Lord Denning MR was rather good at it, of course and often leavened rather dry judgments on commercial and contract matters with a bit of colourful prose and observation of the human condition.
I particularly liked this quote…. rather appropriate in these dark days…