Neuberger on Bentham

access to justice

The Master of the Rolls has used the annual Bentham lecture to stand up for legal aid, oppose the myth of the compensation culture and put right the “insidious idea” that litigation is actually a bad thing.


Jeremy Bentham had a “famously low opinion of judges and lawyers”, Lord Neuberger told an audience at UCL this month.

However, Bentham, “with his avowed distrust of those who argue from self-interest”, would have challenged the myth of the compensation culture, and was also an “early supporter” of legal aid.

Lord Neuberger said “the notion that the legal aid budget is excessive needs to be examined very critically.

“It is certainly not made out by comparisons with other countries. The United States is a lousy example: we do not want to disenfranchise the poor as they do. As for mainland Europe, its inquisitorial system means that lawyers’ costs of court proceedings tend to be lower than here, but that is because it involves much more judges’ work, so that their judiciary costs are far higher than ours.”

When the entire budget spent on the courts, legal aid and prosecution services are combined the budget allocation in England and Wales was 0.33 per cent of per capita GDP, which placed England and Wales 17th out of 38 jurisdictions responding to a Council of Europe study — “if anything very slightly cheaper per capita than average”.

While people should seek to resolve disputes amicably where possible, “effective access to the courts” was necessary to encourage “the strong and the rich to negotiate, arbitrate or mediate with their weaker and poorer opponents” he said.

“As Bentham would have agreed, if the law is to be effective it must be known and must be equally accessible to all.”




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