Law Society’s Gazette, 11 October 1972

Excerpts from the inaugural address by President of the Law Society Sir Desmond Heap LLM

People and Lawyers

It is a matter of astonishment for lawyers that they seem to be regarded as concerned almost exclusively with the criminal law and the Old Bailey. This is strange, because of the 40 volumes of Halsbury’s Laws of England, the section on crime occupies hardly more than half of one volume. Nevertheless, this popular misconception persists.

It may be added that the peculiarities of our Anglo-Saxon system of criminal trial do not correspond with the layman’s notion of what a criminal trial ought to be; indeed, they run counter to his own natural instincts. What seems urgent to him is to get at the truth and this, paradoxically, is not the object of an English trial. It is not an inquisition to get to the bottom of the matter; that is the business of the prosecution and the police.

The court’s function is to hear the prosecution’s case, consider the defence and decide whether the prosecution has established beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty of the offence with which he has been charged. The result of this is that the lawyer is regarded as the man who tries to obstruct the court and the police in their duty. He is the man who throws spanners into the works by technical defences and, it is assumed, tries to get the guilty off.

In times when there is growing public anxiety over a rising volume of crime, this seems to some to be an intolerable situation and there is a danger that our system of justice will be eroded – a system so carefully developed to ensure that those facing, on prosecution, the full resources of the state shall enjoy the protection they need. Without this thing called the rule of law, the very fabric of society is rent.

We live in changing times – we always did. But some things must continue to stand firm as bulwarks of our freedoms and the greatest of these is the law – the law in all its panoply and majesty. Once this breaks – once ‘the strong man’s pleasure’ unjustly prevails over the weak, then the jackboot is not far behind. Mr Yeats, the Irishman, puts this better than I can. Let me give him the last words on my behalf:Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold:Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhereThe ceremony of innocence is drowned:The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity.Well, there it is – a world without the Rule of Law. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be’ – MISSED.