I had the great honour of giving the annual address at the annual Suffolk Justice Service in Bury St Edmunds Cathedral on 12 March 2017 – at the conclusion of my final term as Independent Reviewer, and just a few days before the attack in Westminster presaged the UK’s worst year for terrorism since 2005. The two previous addresses, by Supreme Court Justices Lord Sumption and Lady Hale, had set the bar forbiddingly high.
The service was attended by some 650 members of the legal community in Suffolk and their families, from judges and magistrates to lawyers and court staff.
The address identifies some of the problems currently infecting public life on both sides of the Atlantic: in particular, a tendency to tribalism and a cavalier attitude to the truth. My message was that for all their faults, lawyers serve a greater good. Our practising traditions help us see both sides of the question; and the narrow disciplines of the law – in particular, the application of logic to evidence by rigorously independent judges – are the best means yet devised of exposing falsehood and deceit.
The Biblical texts referred to in the address are the cinematic Isaiah 5:20-30, which predicts a grisly fate for those who tell lies (also, for corrupt judges and people who mix their drinks); and Matthew 23: 1-33, in which Jesus lets fly at the scribes and Pharisees – or as some translations have it, lawyers – for their vanity, greed, hypocrisy and formalism. These are familiar and not unjustified criticisms of our profession – but not, I hope, the full picture.