Sunday, February 20, 2011


Matthew Howson, President of NewLaw, which is a group for Catholic law students or people interested in a career in the law that meets once a month at 7.30pm in Newman House to discuss issues such as careers and legal ethics, reports on the speakers they have hosted so far this year.

When NewLaw speakers come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. This term, due mainly to the astonishing persuasive abilities of Fr John, the Newman House Law Society has had a veritable legion of high-powered speakers (and attendees) with more to come. And if we had to produce a theme, I think it would be, like the Prince of Denmark, a concern for the reality of power. These are lawyers who are aware that law does not always create justice; lovers of justice who long to see it achieved through the law.

Dr Peter Roebuck, former Provost of the University of Ulster, is an English Catholic who has lived and worked in Northern Ireland for thirty years, and as such has a unique, penetrative and clear-sighted view of the province. He graphically described the difficulty of removing sectarian emotions in even the young people growing up even after the Good Friday Agreement, including his own children: educated, liberal, born to an English father, yet who are still fighting the old wars.

Rt Rev Abbot Richard Yeo, Abbot President of the English Benedictines and former Abbot of Downside Abbey, argued strongly from his experience of the Cumberlidge Commission for a more full-hearted yet thought-out to the clerical church abuse scandal. By rooting out abuse we are doing more than appeasing the world: what we do for the least of these, we do for Christ. But it must be an approach that acts with purpose and swiftness, and not waste years of innocent priests' lives in suspension from their duties, as happens now.

Joe Glacken, Africa Director of the national charity Hope and Homes for Children, similarly emphasised the reality behind pious platitudes in a heartfelt but witty discussion. He described how charities compete for government funding with eye-catching short term proposals,and how a high-level charity worker worked with street children for many hours in silence because she assumed they could not speak English. If you wish to learn what would really, actually, help a local community, you should sit and listen.

And then our very own Ellie Kirby, long-time and beloved resident of Newman House. Ellie will shortly begin a training contract with an ultra-sharp corporate law firm. Yet she saw that the South African constitution she explored by day, despite being one of the most progressive and articulate pieces of legislation in the world, was vastly different from the reality she saw in her Cape Town evenings. Law may ban wife-beating, but if the police consider it normal and do it themselves, what is law? Law may try to support the abused, but if the abusers misuse legal processes to get round the law, what is law?

Next month we have Paul Ridge, a partner at Bindmans LLP, arguably the top Human Rights law firm in the UK, and also my Bible teacher, so I love him dearly. Originally an atheistic socialist, his eyes were opened at Bindmans to the fact that it is not the law that makes people good.

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