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 book’s ambition is not to “unmask” or “debunk” the law or the role of lawyers and judges.

From a democratic viewpoint, the demonstration that the common law is a thoroughly socialized and political enterprise can be as liberating as it is unsettling.  By showing the common law as the living, breathing and down-the-street experience that it really is, it might become possible to grasp that the common law is nothing more (and nothing less) than what we make it.  It has no special magic and lawyers have no special insight into the human condition. The common law is no better or worse than the lawyers, judges and commentators who comprise its dramatis personae.

The common law is simply another official location at which officials struggle to forge workable solutions to demanding controversies of private and public significance. The common law is a showcase or a shambles, depending on your point of view.  It is what it is by virtue of the talents of those lawyers who work with it, the values of those judges who shape it, and the interests of those litigants who must rely upon it.  And it will change in the same way.

Whether societies should persist with such a process is not a question for technical experts, but one for political choice.  If the common law is to continue in its privileged role, it will work best if it is stripped of its priestly trappings and viewed as the pragmatic, public and corrigible practice that it is.

And, by the way: is eating people wrong?

Well, it is not the eating that is the problem.  (That should be a matter of personal taste and food regulation more than anything else.)  But killing people, that is the real problem.

© 2011 Allan Hutchinson