Allan C. Hutchinson


On his book Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World

Cover Interview of May 22, 2011

The wide angle

Much legal education treats law as an autonomous discipline that can be separated from and studied without any necessary resort to politics, philosophy, sociology and the like.  Instead, I have always tried to show how law is simply a reflection of those contested matters.

Law is a practical craft and it is where the theoretical rubber hits the concrete road.  It is only possible to make any sense of law and its development if one has some grasp of the political, historical, social and related contexts in which lawyers and judges work.

So, refusing to view law as a dry and formal discipline, it becomes possible to appreciate it as a much more vibrant, knockabout, and seat-of-the-pants performance.

Of course, this does not make law any better or worse in itself.  As with all human endeavors, the common law offers a microcosm of social life with its usual cast of personalities and characters.  It is as flawed as it is functional, as appealing as it is off-putting, as polished as it is pot-marked, and as prejudiced as it is balanced.  It would be surprising if it were any different.

If there is a method to the common law’s madness, it is to be found in the court’s diverse and uncoordinated attempts to adapt to changing conditions and shifting demands.

Like nature itself, and like all efforts to explain and understand it, the common law is an untidy exercise in human judgment.  The common law seeks to make the best of a bad job; it has a certain experimental, catch-as-catch-can, and anything-might-go sense about it.