Tuesday 9th October saw the in-person return of Lincoln’s Inn’s Denning Society’s annual lecture, given this year by Lady Black of Derwent, a recent retiree from the Supreme Court. The Denning Society is open to anyone who has ever received any form of scholarship from the Inn, which by no more than a happy alignment of stars on the day of the interview includes your correspondent. The other three inns each have an equivalent, so anyone who holds or hopes to acquire a scholarship from any of them should read on.
The lecture was held in one of the newest parts of the Inn, the Ashworth Centre. Practically buried beneath the Great Hall, it is a modernist construction of pine and concrete. Think nuclear bunker by Ikea. Attendees ranged from lowly GDL students like me right up to the Treasurer – the boss of the Inn for the year. I took advantage of the express lack of a dress code since of late I invariably find myself overdressed for any remotely legal events I attend. Most of the other students did likewise, but I did notice mine was the only pair of jeans in sight, not that anyone seemed to mind. The barristers and benchers were all in suits.
The subject of the lecture had been advertised in advance: ‘Victorian Legal Dilemmas Lampooned by Gilbert and Sullivan – Would we fare any better today?’ It turned out this was what Lady Black had hoped to write her undergrad thesis on before being swayed towards something more conventional and sober. Though reassurance had been given that no prior knowledge of G&S would be required, I had been fortunate to have seen The Mikado in a splendidly low budget production in Dorset over the summer and decided to brush up further by getting a cheap seat aboard HMS Pinafore at the ENO two days before the lecture. The result, dear reader, was that I felt like Mr Bean in the exam sketch where he was expecting trigonometry and instead the paper was on differential calculus, for Lady Black zeroed in on Iolanthe, Utopia Ltd. and Pirates of Penzance. Again, no matter, as at least it broadened my knowledge of G&S even more than I had bargained for.
The substance of the lecture was exactly what I would have expected from a supreme court justice who had been waiting her whole career for the chance to expound on the legal dilemmas portrayed in G&S. She focused on a handful of the most fecund dilemmas, such as that of the lord chancellor in Iolanthe falling in love with one of his wards, and addressed every possible angle and permutation, to great comic effect, especially since she quite sensibly dared not risk infringing copyright in front of a room full of 150 or so barristers by showing us any YouTube videos, so had to quote the relevant passages herself, rhymes, rhythms and all.
Something slightly unexpected, though on reflection quite in keeping with much of the way successful barristers seem to talk, was the lack of any real summing up. Instead it was left to the audience to draw our own conclusions from the material Lady Black had presented to us. This is in no way a bad thing as it has the quite flattering effect of making you feel like a respected and intelligent listener and plenty of conclusions readily offered themselves. Foremost among them being the theme of statute law having developed and cemented concepts which 19th-century common law only vaguely hinted at.
And of course, as with practically every event taking place in an inn of court after sunset, there were drinks, nibbles and the chance to do as much (or as little) networking as you fancied afterwards.
Thanks to Matthew Pugh (member of this year’s Lawbore journalist team) for this excellent review of their evening at Lincolns Inn. Matthew is studying for a GDL at City Law School with the intention of going to the Bar. Before coming to City he read Classics and was editor of the Oxford Bar Society’s magazine, The Pupil. He particularly likes thinking and writing about the relationship between the law, society and morality.