“Fancy you being quoted in Communist paper today!”. Thus read an e-mail received as I was boarding the plane for Nashville. The reference is to an article published in Saturday’s Guardian headed Rolls Building court complex can make London ‘global legal centre’, where a quotation from an article of mine does indeed appear. The quotation is accurate, I gave my permission for anything I had written to be used, and I stand by it. It is, unfortunately, preceded by a sentence which does not represent my view and which could not be inferred from anything I have said. I will come back to that in a moment.
First, though, why should my correspondent be surprised that I am quoted in a “communist paper” (his words, not mine) like the Guardian? It would be fair to say that my views and those of the Guardian’s readership do not overlap very much. I am not altogether sympathetic with the idea that any problem can be solved by raising taxes and throwing a few thousand more civil servants at it; I don’t buy the idea that society is improved by a focus on rights without a concomitant emphasis on responsibilities; I deeply resent the fact that any sensible discussion about differences between people – differences of colour, race or gender – is stifled by immediate accusations of racism, xenophobia or sexism from people too intolerant, and too convinced of their own rightness to allow the subject to have an airing at all; I strongly disapprove of the idea that the state has an over-riding role in protecting us from our own decisions, even before considering the moral and intellectual shortcomings of the politicians and all those low-grade little people who purport to tell us what to do. I once got into serious trouble with a young idealist for using the expression “the Guardian-reading public” as shorthand for a whole class of wet, woolly thinkers whose claimed liberalism is in fact a severe de facto form of oppression.
That does not stop me reading the Guardian from time to time – it is wrong to dismiss views which are different from one’s own without at least trying to understand them, even if “the Guardian-reading public” does not reciprocate the courtesy; besides, the paper itself is more thoughtful than most of its target audience is about these things.
There is one area in which the Guardian has an increasingly important role – the quality of its law reporting. The Times used to be pre-eminent at this, but one rarely finds anything about the law worth reading in The Times now. I am not sure whether this is because they frig around with the layout so much that whole chunks disappear from view or whether the law has been edged out of the paper by its recent emphasis on celebs, fashion, sex and other people’s emotional problems. The Guardian, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength on legal matters, both in the print and electronic versions and on Twitter.
The article itself, as its title implies, is mainly about the new Rolls Building which is to house the Commercial Court and other specialist courts. The passage which uses a quotation from me reads as follows:
Chris Dale, an Oxford lawyer and software expert who has been developing “e-disclosure practices”, is among those who have been critical of the Rolls Building. “It is no good just inducing wealthy foreigners to spend their money in the commercial … and specialist courts while small and medium-sized companies (who generate most of our GDP) cannot afford to bring and defend claims,” he wrote on his blog. “It is disingenuous to boast of one shiny new building while neglecting the courts in which most of our litigation is run.”
The words in quotation marks are, so far as I recall, entirely accurate, though putting “e-disclosure practices” in quotation marks somehow invests the subject with a hint of the salacious which is, alas, missing, at least in my neck of the woods. The opening sentence which implies that I am critical of the building itself is based on nothing I have said, either in the article from which the quotation comes or anywhere else.
I am extremely keen to see London’s place in the international dispute resolution market reaffirmed by such a fine building. I have not seen it yet, but as long as there are a few gestures to modernity – the occasional power socket would be a plus relative to many of our courts – then a flagship building is much needed. I have written a lot recently about Singapore’s bid to be a jurisdiction of choice, one which is working extremely hard on improving the whole litigation process. The chief difference between what they are doing in Singapore and what is happening in the UK is that Singapore looks at the wider subject of access to justice. We seem to focus solely on those parts which we can sell to rich foreigners whilst running down every aspect of the justice system available to ordinary domestic litigants.
I will not repeat what I said in my original article, which was called UK Government bids for a world-class legal reputation whilst neglecting the basics back home. Its message is reinforced by what I learned at the Singapore conference foreshadowed in my article. I expanded on some of the ideas in a further article called MoJ Consultation on Civil Justice and Bash-a-Burglar: every man for himself replaces access to to justice. Neither of these articles criticised the Rolls Building.
I am obviously pleased to be quoted on this important subject, and I doubt that my relationship with those who are responsible for the Rolls Building will suffer as a result of the misattribution of my views. I will probably have nightmares now of being pursued down the Strand by a pack of angry judges in their formal frocks – see this Private Eye cover for an idea of what that looks like – together with herds of MoJ civil servants with furled umbrellas at the ready, shuffling paper and pushing pens at me in an aggressive manner, all seeking revenge for a criticism which I never in fact made..