Missed Moments in Legal History

Author: Nick Chambers QC
ISBN: 9780955657689
Publisher: OblongCreative Ltd
Published: October 2012
Price: £19.95 Hardback

Alternative histories are usually gloomy affairs, the dystopic visions of writers in their garrets conjuring “what if” scenes of Nazis marching triumphantly up Whitehall, Czars enthroned in the White House or the lack of scientific progress under an all-powerful, unreformed Papacy.

His Honour Judge Nicholas Chambers QC comes from a different tradition. His “what if” scenarios show how the legal world might have looked if the facts behind some of its most fondly memorable cases had been different. What if Mrs Donoghue had enjoyed a refreshing ginger beer without finding a decomposing snail hidden in the bottle? What if the shipwrecked mariners Dudley and Stephens had decided not to yield to their desperate hunger for the tender flesh of the cabin boy? What if Miss Chaplin had turned up to her audition with Mr Hicks? What if Heller & Partners had warned Hedley Byrne & Co not to extend credit to Easipower Ltd?

Would the English common law have developed in a different way, without such memorable precedents as Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562, R v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273, Chaplin v Hicks [1911] 2 KB 786 and Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465?

Nick Chambers is a draftsman and watercolourist, not a doom’n’gloomy novelist, so we are spared a 500-page alternative vision of a legal system in which negligence goes unpunished, contractual fidelity unrewarded, and the ducking stool remains the preferred tribunal of fact. Instead, he provides amusing illustrations of things as they might have been, together with a helpful summary of “what really happened”. His light touch respects the law of which he makes gentle fun, but there are times when his deftly suggestive line recalls the more satirical strokes of a “Spy” or Bateman.

By day, Judge Chambers QC sat in the Mercantile Court in Wales and in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court in London. He has just retired from the Bench and is now acting as an arbitrator at Brick Court Chambers. He is also chairman of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales (ICLR.co.uk). Many of its reports might never have appeared at all, or appeared very differently, if the facts had been as depicted in this delightful, thought-provoking book.

Available from Wildy’s Bookshop (www.wildy.com). All profits to the Barristers’ Benevolent Association.

Paul Magrath, Barrister, of Middle Temple

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