Lord Woolf's attack on Labour's law reforms

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Lord Woolf's Squire Centenary Lecture, entitled "The Rule of Law and a Change in the Constitution"

Any worthwhile society requires an efficient and effective legal system. A healthy legal system requires great law libraries. This is particularly true of common law legal systems.

It is as true today as it has been in the past. Great law libraries are the treasuries of a legal system. They are the warehouse where we find the law. They are also where we collate, catalogue, index and digest the sources of our and other systems of law.

Our ability to obtain access to those sources is being transformed by technology. The forward march of technology has not, however, reduced the importance of law libraries.

It has instead dramatically increased the quantity and quality of information which is now regarded as indispensable in order to educate and train the lawyers who will be responsible for teaching, drafting, practicing, interpreting and applying the law.

It is a cause for celebration that the Squire has already been transformed. It celebrates its centenary in the new Sir Norman Foster Law Faculty Building that provides a magnificent contemporary setting in which to meet the challenges it now faces.

I did not know the Cockerell Building before it was gloriously refurbished by it new owners, but I must confess I was surprised when an eminent lawyer and politician who is a graduate of this University assured me that in his day it was not called the Squire but the Squalor. [I suspect this disrespect for a venerable building was an attempt to justify the fact that he had failed to benefit to the extent that he would/should have if he had spent more time in the Squire.]

Certainly there can be no excuse for not regarding the new quarters as an ideal space for supporting research and teaching. It is a centre of excellence. I have to admit there is one respect in which it undoubtedly puts the Bar Library at the RCJ in the shade.

The librarian there describes how members of the public and tourists regularly traipse up the grand staircase leading to the Bar Library only to be disappointed when they arrive to find no liquid refreshments.

I am assured by my judicial assistant that excellence at the Squire extends to Nadia's in the basement where the lemon drizzle cakes and florentines are worthy of a detour.

Libraries have to evolve to meet the needs of their readers. Constitutions have to evolve to meet the needs of their citizens.

A virtue of our being one of the three developed nations that does not have a written constitution, is that our constitution has always been capable of evolving as the needs of society change.

The evolution can be incremental in a way which would be difficult if we had a written constitution. But flexibility comes at a price. We have never had the protection that a written constitution can provide for institutions that have a fundamental role to play in society.

One of those institutions is a legal system that is effective, efficient and independent. A democratic society, pledged to the rule of law, would be deeply flawed without such a legal system.

So far we have coped successfully without a written constitution. That we entered the 21st century without there being more of a clamour for our constitutional arrangements to be reduced into writing is a situation in which we can take genuine pride.

It reflects our national culture. It suggests we have benefited from a tradition of mutual respect, restraint and co-operation between the three arms of Government.

Of course there have been times of tension, but with good sense and good will on all sides they have been successfully managed. This was made easier not because of the separation of powers, but because of the absence of the separation of powers.

The time may have been long past when Lord Chief Justices were, like Mansfield and Ellenborough, members of the cabinet, but still strong links continue to exist<

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