Wrongs and Remedies in the Twenty-First Century

By Peter Birks | Go to book overview

Editor's Preface

The papers in this book are all concerned with practical questions in the law of tort and breach of contract. They are questions which currently raise live issues in the courts or, no less important at a time of relentless institutional self-examination, in the political debate about the future of our legal system. The reader will quickly find, however, that the consideration of those practical matters leads directly to vigorous and original investigation of the very function of the law of civil wrongs. In the result the book is, as it was intended to be, an exciting exercise in practical jurisprudence. It should be no less rewarding to the practitioner than to the university reader. A period of millennial prediction is upon us. The title of the book will place it in that genre. But its emphasis, and strength, lies more in diagnosis than in prognosis. That is, it chiefly points out problems which must be resolved, rather than predicting the detail of likely developments. Professor Atiyah's paper is exceptional in both diagnosing an illness and offering a drastic prescription.

The last years of the twentieth century will not be remembered for easygoing decadence. A grim new rigour is abroad, and money dominates the political debate as never before. Those who call the tune maintain, with or without ulterior motive, that we will shortly be unable to pay for most of the things which the century has taught us to value, harshly implying that perhaps they never had the value that we thought. Willing allies are found in those whose mission is merely efficiency. They think that the things we value could be had for less if only lots of fat cats could be compelled to slim down and tighten their belts or, following the Chicago gospel, that we must want, and ought to want, the things we value at the least possible cost. Either way, the prevailing assumption is that almost every department of our national life will have to cost less -- the monarchy, the armed services, the civil service, the welfare system, the universities, the legal system, overseas aid, and so on. Although the debate is overshadowed by the sheer scale of the damage that can be done by wrong conclusions, one almost good consequence of the possibly quite erroneous premisses is that we are forced to think very hard about the role of institutions and practices whose value has long been taken for granted. Millennial introspection, money and the premisses of law-and-economics thus all conduce to the same openness to radical thought.

The law of civil wrongs is no exception. If this book can fairly claim to open up the examination of its fundamental purposes, the underlying reason is the proximity of large-scale financial pressures. Here as elsewhere the

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