2021iii8, Monday: even the wisest can stumble.

A small and humble disagreement with the UK's best commentator on the law. And the joy of newsletters: a welcome return to pre-Web habits.

2021iii8, Monday: even the wisest can stumble.

Short thought: Joshua Rozenberg is fantastic. He is the best reporter of the law I’ve ever encountered. (Although the late, and wonderful, Marcel Berlins - who taught me media law many years ago - probably runs him a close second.)

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters. Almost always, I only take the free version. But I pay for Joshua’s, willingly and happily. As a working barrister and an ex-hack, I find his insight and wisdom unmissable.

But even the wisest can stumble. And I think Joshua’s just done so.

He ends an otherwise (characteristically) excellent piece about the welcome elevation of Dame Vivien Rose to the Supreme Court with the following quote from the President of the Court, Lord Reed:

Having spent a substantial part of her career working in government and parliament, Lady Justice Rose will add significantly to the diversity of experience on the court. Her outstanding legal ability and breadth of experience will be invaluable in maintaining the high quality of our judgments and our reputation as an international centre of legal excellence.

To which Joshua adds:

He’s right. Diversity of experience is the most important diversity of all.

In one sense, he’s right. England’s judiciary (and its Bar) is less pale, male and stale, less monocultural, than it used to be. It still has a very long way to go. Dame Vivien, like Lady Hale before her, isn’t from the “traditional” career path of the independent Bar. And also like Lady Hale, we’ll be much the better for having her on the Court.

But he’s also wrong - not so much in the underlying sentiment but in putting it this way, in this context. It reads altogether too much as though Dame Vivien’s “diversity of experience” - as a Government lawyer as opposed to a product of the self-employed Bar - is distinct from, and more valuable than, that which emerges from actively looking to get more non-men, non-white and non-public school/Oxbridge people into the judiciary.

If Joshua meant it that way, it would be a ludicrous, and foolish, tension to encourage. It would be so at any time, given how often we still here the old, old voices that seek to paint every attempt to broaden the pool of gender and ethnicity in particular from which the benches and the Bar is drawn as a dilution of quality, rather than the other way round.

But right now, when government ministers use “woke” as a rude word, when all it really means is “genuinely aware that bias and prejudice are still alive, kicking and deeply rooted in how our society works”, it’s more dangerous than ever.

Our Bar and judiciary need diversity of experience. And they need it as much from throwing open our profession to as wide a base as possible, in every way possible, as they do from making sure lawyers with non-traditional career paths - even truly fantastic ones like Dame Vivien - get the nod.

I should make one thing clear. I can’t believe Joshua did mean it that way. I’m confident that giving comfort to those who, deep down, see righting the wrongs meted out on the grounds of race, sex, faith, gender or sexuality as some kind of discrimination in itself - or who may not think that, but find it a convenient punching-bag for political gain - would be the last thing he would would want to do.

It’s a shame that, inadvertently I’m sure, that’s what he’s done.

Someone is (pretty much always) right on the internet: More about newsletters, I’m afraid. This time, not a lawyer, but an academic.

John Naughton is one of the people I turn to when I want to understand what’s happening in the online environment. He’s been studying and writing about it for years. And his writing is accessible, thoughtful and considered.

Unsurprising, then, that I’ve been following his blog - Memex 1.1 (for those who don’t know what Memex 1.0 was, here’s a rabbit hole to disappear down) - for longer than I can remember.

These days, John writes something every day. A curated series of pictures, music, commentary and links. How he sustains it I don’t know. And I can’t remember a single edition which hasn’t included something I’m desperately glad I was pointed to. Not one.

And while it appears on his website, he also sends it out via Substack (for free) each morning. Needless to say, I subscribe.

The funny thing is, the wildfire growth of newsletters (yes, I know - like this one) is something of a reversion to the early days of the online world. Remember that the public Web is less than three decades old. Before then, and for many years thereafter, email newsletters in plain text were the standard way of “publishing”. I’m a huge fan of their return.

While I’m not giving up on RSS, I’m happy to have a dozen or more people’s newsletters popping into my inbox on a regular basis. I may have less time to read them than I did (the one thing I miss about commuting). But the habit of regular writing is a valuable one, and those who commit to it tend - counter-intuitively - to think before they write, and write thoughtfully as a result.

John is a pre-eminent example of that breed. I commend his newsletter warmly.