Rethinking Lord Denning, M.R. – A newcomer’s perspective

Lord Denning’s decision in the “cricket balls” case of Miller v. Jackson, [1977] Q.B. 966 (C.A.), is required reading for every first year law student.  Read it again, now that you’re called to the bar, and see how the great judge weaves the xenophobic values of an island nation into the common law.  The judgment is the greatest legal teaching tool, and a dangerous introduction to the law.  Depending on the law teacher, it is either the beginning of modern Common Law discourse or an amusing example of judicial arrogance.  Denning remains on a pedestal for lawyers of prior generations.  In his world, there are cricket enthousiasts and there are “newcomers.”  The newcomer in Miller “is no lover of cricket.”

According to the Guardian newspaper’s obituary, Denning expressed remarks about black jury members as an “alien presence in our midst.”  A champion of the ordinary man, he evidently had a problem with the new demographic of British society as not being “ordinary” enough for him.  Click on the next link to see my PowerPoint presentation which has caused audiences to rethink their legal “hero”: Denning and Newcomers.  Can you ever read another Denning M.R. judgment the same old way?

The importance of Lord Denning at the heart of legal education and culture cannot be underestimated, especially from the perspective of the new lawyer.  New lawyers are “newcomers,” in many ways.  Women, for example, face unseen normative obstacles, as do members of various ethnic and linguistic minorities.  Like Denning, there are those in our profession who say new lawyers should just put up with with metaphorical cricket balls from those who were here first.  The statistics are clear that new lawyers belong to a demographic shifting in diversity.  We should not dismiss or put Lord Denning down.  Nor should we celebrate him.  We should think of his legal judgments critically, as we do all judicial writing.

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