Hilary 2020 Programme opens with public debate on Lord Sumption's bestseller Trials of the State

05 February 2020

The Foundation for Law, Justice and Society’s Hilary Term opened this week with a sold-out Book Colloquium on former Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Sumption’s provocative bestseller Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics, in which he argues that judicial review has reached a critical level, and the time has come to return some problems to the politicians.

Professor Denis Galligan chaired a panel discussion with Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocantos, Oxford Professor of Politics & International Relations, and Paul Yowell, Associate Professor of Law at Oxford, who each took opposing positions on the merits and demerits Lord Sumption’s provocative argument.

Professor Yowell adopted a sympathetic line in defence of the book's thesis that unelected judges suffer from a democratic deficit and wield too much power in judicial reviews of recent policies involving human rights, such as abortion or prisoners' rights to vote. Professor Gonzalez Ocantos presented a more critical view of the book, which expands on the argument first made in Lord Sumption's 2019 Reith Lectures. He argued that it is the responsibility of social groups to address this democratic deficit by engaging with the appointment process and decision-making of judges to ensure that future judiciaries are more open, receptive, and pluralistic.

The audience gave their views in a lively Q&A session in which the public put their questions to the speakers following their opening presentations.

The event was the first in our programme of events for 2020, which this year includes our first ever Oxford-based Putney Debates, and a Keynote Lecture by Professor Sir Adam Roberts on the decline of liberalism in the 21st Century. 

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