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(Another) Bar Standards Board faux pas?

Author: Richard Moorhead |

11 Oct 2012 | 12:38

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Baroness Deech, the chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), recently gave an interesting speech on legal education and legal regulation. It appears from the text of the speech that it was given to a group of South African lawyers.

It begins: "There is no more appropriate nation than S. Africa in which to examine legal education and the lawyers that it produces." I ask every lawyer reading this blog to pause and think of the most famous South African lawyer.

I think, not unusually I suspect, immediately of Nelson Mandela, but Baroness Deech turns to Lords Hoffmann and Steyn, Sydney Kentridge or Edwin Cameron, as "names that bring credit to S. African legal education." Fair enough. It is a great, although entirely white, list.

Shortly thereafter she writes this passage: "The courageous defence of the rule of law is almost synonymous with S. African lawyers [I note in passing the "almost"]. Those who defended Mandela and his colleagues, not with violence but with legal skill, are the ones who still today symbolise the peaceful resolution of the world's great international law problems."

No mention is made of Mandela's legal career (he used to run free clinics for black South Africans) and the words "not with violence" send out - I think - a clear message of reproach. I may be wrong, and would be interested in other peoples' thoughts, particularly Baroness Deech's herself, but this seems to me a questionable thing for a chairwoman of the BSB to do.

Of course there is a debate to be had about the use of force against repressive political regimes (even where violence is directed at property, not people); but in a speech supposedly celebrating legal education and South African legal education in particular, is it really appropriate to speak of one of the greatest political figures of our lifetime in this way? Most pertinently, is it a speech that should be disseminated on the Bar Standards Board website?

I have my doubts. What do others think?

Richard Moorhead is Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law at the Faculty of Laws, University College London. Click here to visit his blog, Lawyer Watch, and click here to follow Richard on Twitter.

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