Law, Society, and Economy: Centenary Essays for the London School of Economics and Political Science, 1895-1995

By Richard Rawlings | Go to book overview

16
Access to Justice--Towards the 21st Century

MICHAEL ZANDER

It seems appropriate in a centennial lecture in the approach to the millenium to attempt to paint on a large canvas. The topic I have chosen embraces a great array of major issues any one of which could itself be the subject of a lecture. In the past twenty to thirty years a vast literature on these issues has developed. A lecture is a very inadaquate way to treat so rich and complex a subject.

My purpose is to see where we are and where we are going in regard to access to justice and to focus attention on the difficulty and complexity of the subject--which sometimes receives less attention than it should. By the phrase 'access to justice', I understand the whole array of issues that relate to the citizen's ability to cope in the face of the law and the legal system in terms of getting one's rights at law and of defending one's legal position.

The subject is one on which I find myself in a state of basic ambivalence. On the one hand, one wants people to get their legal rights. So I am concerned that, according to the research, the majority of the population, regardless of age, income or social class, are woefully ignorant about their rights, that a great proportion of those entitled to legal aid do not know about its existence, that the great majority of victims of accidents do nothing to get compensation, in short that there is a great unmet need for legal help. Plainly, something should be done to reduce their ignorance and to make it easier for them to get their legal just deserts.

At the same time I am uneasy at the notion that the citizen should be encouraged to reach for his lawyer, like a frontiersman in the Wild West reaching for his six-shooter. Recently The Times published a letter about a study in Pennsylvania of 30,000 hospital records which the writer said showed that only one person in 65 injured by the negligence of a doctor or other health worker filed suit for compensation.1 (And that was in allegedly trigger-happy America.) Do we say that society would be

____________________
*
A revised version of a lecture delivered on 11 July 1995.
1
The study by Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine was cited by Robin de Wilde QC , The Times, 12 June 1995.

-339-

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