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Tuesday, 22 October 2019

On Friday 18 October 2019, Lady Brenda Hale delivered the 2019 CPL Sir David Williams Lecture entitled "Principle and Pragmatism in Public Law".

Lady Hale's lecture focused on three public law principles which illustrated different relationships between principle and pragmatism in English law. The first principle, deference, was an example where pragmatism was more important than principle. Deference occurs when courts do not control administrative bodies as stringently as they might otherwise do, through giving weight to decisions of the administration, or applying a less stringent standard of judicial review. Courts deferred to the executive because of practical considerations, examining differences in the decision-making processes of the courts and the administration.

The second principle, legitimate expectations, was provided as an example of a pragmatic approach that was often dressed up as a principle. Although we have principles that establish different doctrines of legitimate expectation, these principles are really applied in a pragmatic way. Lady Hale accepted that principles such as 'good administration' may be insufficiently clear to provide an answer to whether a legitimate expectation should be protected. But that practical considerations influenced what good administration would require in specific circumstances in order to determine whether there were, or were not, good reasons to uphold a legitimate expectation.

The third principle, the principle of legality, was used by Lady Hale to illustrate how a principle could be applied by the court to give rise to results that may be far from pragmatic. In the cases applying this principle, the courts have been prepared to provide statutory interpretations to protect fundamental common law rights and principles, without being concerned about the pragmatic consequences of doing so.

Lady Brenda Hale is the most senior judge in the United Kingdom. After teaching law at the University of Manchester for 18 years and then proposing reforms to the law at the Law Commission for over nine, she became a High Court Judge in 1994. In 1999 she was promoted to the Court of Appeal and in 2004 to the appellate committee of the House of Lords. In 2009, the House of Lords became the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. She was appointed its Deputy President in 2013 and its first woman President in 2017.

The Sir David Williams Lecture is an annual address delivered by a guest lecturer in honour of Sir David Williams, Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of English Law and Emeritus Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, hosted by the Centre for Public Law (CPL).

More information about this lecture, including other recorded formats and photographs from the event, is available from the Sir David Williams Lecture pages on the CPL website.


Sir David Williams Lecture 2019