Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 1, No. 19 September 6, 1938
Justice! — Law and Society
Law and Society
The fact that the law, as Anatole France reminded us, "with a majestic impartiality forbids the rich and the poor alike to starve to death, or to sleep under bridges," does not ensure either equality or justice before the law. "Justice in England," by "A Barrister." the latest Left Book Club choice, containing a most comprehensive review of the English legal system, deals briefly but yet exhaustively, with many of the discrepancies of that system.
Members of the Bar in this country can derive some small comfort from the fact that parts of our New Zealand system have progressed beyond the state where the author's criticisms are applicable.
The learned author has dealt with the problem of the poor litigant in a most fair manner. He has outlined the various forms of assistance given in England; he has shown that many members of the Bar are prepared to act for the poor; but he has shown also how the initial disadvantages of poverty will always prevent the poorer classes from entering the Courts on an equal footing with a wealthy opponent. If this is so in England, how much more is it so in New Zealand, where no provision whatever is made for the poor as regards civil litigation. It is true that the high standard of ethics prevailing in New Zealand will rarely result in a pauper who has a genuine cause of action receiving no legal assistance, but does this ensure equality? The render has only to pause for a moment to consider the case of a wealthy corporation, advised by the leaders of the Bar, delaying and prolonging an action, while the worker, no longer able to work, is slowly reaching starvation line: in desperation he finally settles for a small sum of ready money: the case never reaches the Court and the name of the Corporation is saved—and the question is answered. In these days of far apart sittings of the Arbitration Court, has not many a settlement been forced because a worker cannot live until his claim may be heard? Much food for thought is provided for the reader in connection with poor litigants.
The most interesting and striking feature of this book is the author's treatment of what may be called his theme. It is that those responsible for the administration of the law—Judges, Magistrates, Barristers and Officers of the Court—cannot and never will appreciate, the viewpoint and psychology of the lower classes, it is admitted that the majority of lawyers strive to overcome this defect; that sons of the poor may rise to judicial eminence; that many of the judges try to understand the workings of the lower social order. Nevertheless it seems that the lengthy legal training involved, the years spent in mixing with and catering to the needs of the higher classes, create an attitude of mind which is forgetful of and incapable or understanding the problems of the working class.
The author, in his chapter "Political Aspects of the Law." shows how hopeless it is for the accused in cases of sedition, unlawful assembly and similar crimes to receive a just trial. How the law may be used for the political ends, not necessarily of the Government, but of the police officials, he shows by an exhaustive discussion of relevant statutes in the light of recent prosecutions. Can the offenders expect generous treatment at the hands of their opponents who do not even understand their pleas? That question is answered by "Barrister." but here in New Zealand, we are less affected by his criticism than England, for in this country progressive thought has largely taken the place of the archaic conservatism of the old school lawyers.
The book is above all, easy to read as it contains as well as a wealth of legal information, a fund of satirical humour. "Salient" recommends the book as one which all concerned with the administration of justice as well as of law, should read, and which those who are working for a salutory change in society should inwardly digest.
[This article was rejected by the "N.Z. Law Journal"]