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Valedictorian address on behalf of the Law Society to the outgoing master of the rolls

3 August 2016

Jonathan Smithers, former Law Society presidentOn 26 July, the immediate past president of the Law Society, Jonathan Smithers, delivered the valedictorian address on behalf of the Law Society to the outgoing master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, at the Royal Courts of Justice

Introduction

My lord, Master of the Rolls, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Law Society of England and Wales, it is a privilege to say a few words of farewell to the master of the rolls.

As the immediate past president of the Law Society, I worked closely with your lordship in pursuit of our common aims of upholding the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. A retrospective of your lordship's career clearly demonstrates that your lordship has embodied the values of fairness, equality and progressiveness.

Fairness

Your lordship's rulings and opinions on all matters of civil justice are regarded as benchmarks of excellence, nationally and internationally. For instance, the promotion of fixed and proportional costs and the backing of arbitral decisions as a strand of alternative dispute resolution have been essential to ensure that our civil justice system remains certain yet flexible. Through your lordship's rulings you made a significant contribution to ensure that the rule of law remains our greatest export.

But, your lordship's fairness and humanity can also be seen outside the bench. Your lordship has spoken passionately on the need to safeguard the principle of access to justice and courageously raised concerns on the impact of the reforms to the justice system on the public.

Earlier this year, your lordship delivered evidence before the Justice Select Committee as part of the inquiry on court and tribunal fees. During the session, your lordship stated that 'access to justice was the critical point', emphasising that your lordship was concerned not just about poor people not being able to use the system, but also ordinary people on modest incomes.

On the issue of enhanced fees, your lordship added that, although this is ultimately a policy decision for parliament and the government, 'the risk of denying justice to a lot of people was intense'.

These words of caution were instrumental for the Justice Select Committee's final report, which unequivocally declared that access to justice must prevail over generating revenue when the government is setting court and tribunal fees.

Your lordship's warning validated the concerns previously raised by the Law Society. These wise words of warning were absolutely crucial to make the argument on the serious impact on people due to increased court and tribunal fees.

Equality

As chairman of the Magna Carta Trust, your lordship ensured that the principles which underpin it were held in the public eye. Through your lordship's work, including your address at Runnymead, your lordship reiterated that the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta not only marked a significant event for the development of our country, but also for other democratic systems around the world that look up to our jurisdiction to inform their judgements and develop their laws.

Your lordship indicated that the sealing was a significant step on a journey which led to the building of a society where everyone has equal rights and nobody is above the law. Reflecting on the provision 'to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice' your lordship said 'these words still have a thrilling majesty even today.'

Progressiveness

As master of the rolls, your lordship always recognised the value of the solicitor's profession and the need to work together to have a better present and a brighter future. Not only has your lordship been a friend of the profession, but also an advocate of our work in the community.

For many years your lordship presided over the admission ceremony of hundreds of newly qualified solicitors and often spoke about the importance of public service, diversity and inclusion.

Your lordship progressively challenged the perception of the judiciary being London-centric and constantly demonstrated the contribution of regional justice and the legal profession to the country.

Back in May, your lordship took the time to engage with the Leeds Law Society by opening their new premises and making yourself available to answer questions from solicitors and students. Your lordship stated that 'the quality of justice offered in cities, such as Leeds, has an effect on the success of the rule of law in the country.

Ending

We wish your lordship all the best for the future, and we are sure that wherever that path takes you, your lordship will continue exuding the values of fairness, equality and progressiveness.

We very much hope that your lordship will continue actively to campaign for access to justice and protecting the most vulnerable in our society. The Law Society thanks your lordship's immense contribution to the rule of law and the legal profession.

Thank you.

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