Great judges change the way we see the law, says Allan Hutchinson, associate vice-president graduate and dean of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. In his new book, Laughing at the Gods; Great Judges and How They Made the Common Law, Hutchinson highlights the work of eight judges he calls “game changers”.
Laughing at the Gods (Cambridge University Press) is meant to be a companion to his popular 2011 book, Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World.
As Hutchinson told a gathering of mostly lawyers, law students and legal scholars at a recent launch of his new book, “Greatness, in anything, is not just about meeting the standards, or exceeding the standards, but changing them.” And that is the criteria he used in choosing which judges to showcase in Laughing at the Gods.
Even though Hutchinson, a Distinguished Research Professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, refers to these eight judges as “great”, he says that interpretation is open to debate, as is the nature of their influence, good or bad. “The influence of these great judges has been, for good and bad, enormous,” he says.
“As such, this book is intended to open a conversation about some judges and their supposed greatness,” he writes in the book’s preface. It looks at some of the “main characters who have stood out among the judicial ranks,” those judges who have “helped to shape the world”. In this way the book is intended to spark conversation about certain judges and whether they are great.
Included in the book are England’s Lord Mansfield laid the still-standing foundations of private law; America’s John Marshall established the institutional importance of judicial review of legislative and executive action; Canada’s Bertha Wilson opened up the judiciary to different and excluded viewpoints; and South Africa’s Albie Sachs helped to turn a revolutionary movement into a democratic government.
“Great judges are nation-builders as well as game changers,” says Hutchinson.
But the book is “not intended as a hymn of praise for these memorable figures or the judicial function generally,” writes Hutchinson. Instead, it is an examination of “the common law enterprise and seeks to identify what it is that makes some of its judicial practitioners leaders in their field.”
A legal theorist, Hutchinson was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 2004 and received a University-Wide Teaching Award in 2007. He is interested in law and politics, legal theory, the legal profession, constitutional law, torts, jurisprudence, civil procedure and racism. Much of his work has been devoted to examining the failure of law to live up to its democratic promise.
He is also the author of Evolution and the Common Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and The Companies We Keep: Corporate Governance for a Democratic Society (Irwin Law, 2005), among others.