Mr Justice John McMenamin of the Supreme Court has warned of the danger of ‘segmenting’ the law into different and divided cultures.
He said that he was concerned about losing sight of the fact that the rule of law is there to protect disadvantaged people, as much as those who are advantaged.
Judges and lawyers should examine their conscience, he suggested at the Law Society-sponsored access-to-justice webinar at the weekend.
“How are we going to make sure that the law isn’t just seen as a mechanism for people to make a very, very good living, rather than being a means of attaining justice within society?” he asked.
“I think that’s actually quite an important issue, and I’m not sure that we’re very comfortable with addressing that issue,” the Supreme Court Justice said.
“My view of law changed completely when I got involved in FLAC,” the judge told the webinar.
“I regarded the law as a sort of penance, and then I realised that it actually had a purpose because it dealt with people, and it actually could benefit and protect people’s rights and interests,” he said.
“The law is seen as a very big business in some ways. I worry about that, because I see it not only as a business, but also as the weave that keeps society together,” he continued.
“For that, everyone has to have a stake in the law, not just the big battalions.
“I worry about how the law is seen, because it could be very easily seen as purely a mechanism for protecting the interests of one class over another,” he said.
Outreach by the judiciary is critically important in promoting access to justice, as well as building trust and respect for the rule of law, the Law Society-sponsored webinar heard at the weekend.
Mr Justice McMenamin said that, after talking to one school, a very significant number of students said that they would study the law.
District Court Judge Mary Cashin said that she had heard amazing insights from children in disadvantaged ‘Deis' schools, when she visited them, but relatively few would get the opportunity to continue into legal education.
Lawyers could provide a valuable resource to voluntary access-to-justice organisations, as board members, the webinar also heard.