History and Loos for Lawyers

Often, when I feel the urge to bore the world with my half-baked opinions, I find it very difficult to think of a subject on which to write (one really can’t drone on and on about Brexit for ever). Tonight, however, I am brimming with ideas. Some will have to be put off to another day, but there are two which simply can’t be delayed. Here goes.

History comes first in the title, but loos are probably more important. I will start with them.

I must try to put this delicately.

In February I underwent radical surgery for three different cancers (bladder, kidney and prostate). Like so many invalids, I could tell you in great detail about all my symptoms and treatments. But I am still (just) civilised enough to understand that you would (understandably) be bored stiff if I did that. I do, however, have to explain one part of my treatment so you can make sense of what I am about to say.

The surgeons removed my bladder and created something called a “neo-bladder” to put in its place. The neo-bladder was fashioned from a part of my bowel. The great thing about it is that I don’t have to have one of those bags collecting urine. OK, I know this is getting disagreeable, but bear with me: the revolting bits will stop soon. All you now need to know is that, unlike the rest of you, my body gives me no indication of when I need to go to the loo (the neo-bladder has no nerve supply). Passing urine now has to be done by the clock. During the day I have to remember to go to the loo about every hour. Life is not so bad at night, I just have to wake up every two hours.

At last, I am about to get to the point. If a chap has to go to the loo every hour and is not safely at home or in an office, he is bound to need to use public conveniences. The first thing he discovers is that those facilities, though they were very common in his youth, are now few and far between. Next, and this is the point, he learns that those which still exist are extraordinarily nasty. Oh yes, another thing I should have explained: those of us who have neo-bladders have to void them while sitting down, we can’t use urinals.

Other users of public conveniences never flush. That did come as quite a shock to me. But the expense is even worse. We used to call it “spending a penny” (a proper penny, not the new ones). Now, the cost varies between 4s and 10s (20p to 50p). Most mainline railway stations in London charge 50p. Wimbledon station is cheaper, only 20p, but its two cubicles in the men’s loo are pretty disgusting (one of them has no lock and the other is – no – I won’t describe it).

The worst public loo in London, at least of the ones I have visited, is the one at Westminster underground station. It charges 10s (50p). That is 120 times the “penny” we used to pay. The ladies’ loo is permanently closed, so the men’s has become unisex. That is probably rather horrid for the female tourists who have to hang around waiting for the two or three cubicles which may, on a good day, be operational as men use the urinals. When they (or we neo-bladder chaps) get to a cubicle they find it (no, I can’t go on – use your imagination).

I can only imagine the gigantic profits earned by whichever company it is that runs the Westminster loo. Of course, I am delighted that a British company is doing so well. But I do wonder whether Britain benefits from so many foreign tourists seeing such disgusting loos.

I ought, in gratitude to the NHS, to explain that I have a card which explains to those to whom I may show it that I should be permitted to use their loos even if I don’t buy any of their products. But, of course, I have never used it (the embarrassment would be too much for me). So I am stuck with public conveniences. And they are very horrid.

Let’s cheer up. I am indebted to my friend, Matthew Brunning, for alerting me to a speech delivered by Lord Sumption (rather a hero of mine) to Upper Tribunal judges. His theme was history and the law. You can read the speech here: Lord Sumption’s speech. I do hope you will read it because it is both amusing and informative.

It is amusing because his audience will have been completely bemused by his theory that lawyers should know anything other than the law (and then only the law as it has been set out in the last ten years or so). The Upper Tribunal judges, and, sadly, a lot of other judges, are convinced that history is desperately boring. No one, as far as they are concerned, said anything of any interest at all before about the year 2000. When Lord Sumption tells them that they can learn a lot from history they sigh deeply and mutter about this lunatic Supreme Court judge who is a throw back to the 1950s (I think that is the decade which Islington types most deprecate). They, because they have never studied anything other than law, simply can’t grasp the fact that an understanding of history could actually help them in their judicial work.

It is informative because it explains, in simple, clear language, why all lawyers need to understand our history in order to do their jobs properly. As Lord Sumption points out, almost all judges these days are law graduates, they have never been exposed to any proper academic discipline. Of course, many of them, probably not a majority, do understand that history is important. But the judicial bench is now populated, on the whole, by men and women who think history is irrelevant. They just don’t understand that the common law goes back more than a decade or so. It’s not that they are stupid. Many of them are quite clever. But they have never thought it necessary to look back to our history when trying to understand the common law.

Lord Sumption is a remarkable man. It is quite odd that he was appointed to the Supreme Court (because he is both a first rate lawyer and a brilliant historian). Unfortunately, the politicians will soon work out that they, like American politicians, must appoint only judges who share their political prejudices to the Supreme Court. When that happens we will have no more Lord Sumptions in the Supreme Court.


23 thoughts on “History and Loos for Lawyers

  1. Interesting combination of subjects, Charles but both are worthy of discussion. Regarding loos and the dreadfulness thereof, I’m not an expert on the subject but experiences in the past have taught me to avoid. If the need is great and I understand yours is, then I always use hotels, restaurants, shops and pubs. It’s not nearly so risky and I have never once been challenged. If anyone should have the temerity to question me, I would explain that I’m thinking of arranging a meal for twelve friends and would like to look at the menu.

    Regarding the importance of history, I agree absolutely agree and I’m quite appalled any members of legal profession regard it as an irrelevance. . I would be most interested to read Lord Sumption’s thoughts but sadly your link didn’t work for me.


  2. ” We used to call it “spending a penny” (a proper penny, not the new ones). Now, the cost varies between 4s and 10s (20p to 50p). ” Charles, let me see if I understand you. You have to pay to use a filthy loo? Where does all that money you are charged go?, You need to import some Mexicans and let them do what they do in Mexico. They take it upon themselves to keep a particular toilet clean. Everyone, Mexicans and Tourists appreciate what they do and tip them a reasonable amount when the use it. About thirty years a private contractor outfit took over maintaining the rest stops on our interstate highways in Iowa. The first thing the did was install pay toilets. The next thing that happened was our governor had the state government out law pay toilets. He told the contractor to either do the job they were being paid for or bugger off.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lord Sumption’s speech was well worth reading, Charles. I agree with many of his points but especially this one below, although I would I suppose, having studied history!

    He quotes John Horace Round:

    The problem with lawyers, he thought, was that they were too respectful of authority. Their vision was “bounded by their books”, whereas the historian was trained to question authority and to work from first principles. Acquaintance with the historical method could only be good for lawyers.


    • I liked that bit, too, Araminta. And it is a very serious and important point. I know far too many lawyers who are wholly incapable of contemplating the notion that the conventional view of the law might be wrong.



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