The Rt Hon Lord Justice Ryder attended Bolton School from 1962 to 1976, before reading Law at Cambridge University. At the time he was the youngest High Court Judge in the country at the age of 45, before being appointed a Lord Justice in 2013. He gave the following address to Boys’ Division pupils last year:
“I am a lawyer by training. I was a scientist at school, but a scientist more interested in the arts than most. It took me until I was 45 years old to get the job I really wanted, which was to be a judge. I was then the youngest High Court judge and the youngest Court of Appeal judge when I was appointed to be a Lord Justice two years ago. There are only thirty nine of us, and I think it is one of the best jobs in the world. We make decisions that are binding on other judges. We make law by explaining and interpreting it for others to use. I am also a teacher. I am the Chancellor of Bolton University, and a tutor who trains judges at the Judicial Institute in Scotland and the Judicial College in England and Wales.
For most people, school like any institution, is either something you love or hate. To be more accurate, it either gives you a good feeling of inclusivity; a place where you can achieve, or it is an environment where you feel you are out of place and yet are still expected to achieve. For most of my 14 years at Bolton School I was in first place, but not all the time. I was a lousy sportsman until I found rowing and coxing at University. At various times I felt out of place at School, but I was lucky, I loved it by the time I left, it was a home from home that helped me go to Cambridge and launched me on my career.
School taught me one of the most important lessons of success and that is to understand what it takes to be a leader, and a realisation that each of us, in our own way, has the ability to be a leader; to add value or to make a difference. You may not feel it at the moment, but finding that goal and enjoying it, is what life is all about. I didn’t want to leave school, but then I didn’t want to leave Cambridge either; at both I realised there was much more to learn and do than I had found time for.
I have not experienced the same warm glow about other places. Until I became a judge I was a barrister. Despite many good friends who are in the law, I sometimes felt like an outsider. At the time, it was a privileged world that I did not easily fit into. Today it is much less so and is rapidly changing for the better. But the idea that I had to wear an 18th century horsehair wig and nineteenth century wing collars to understand real people, and help them solve their problems was always, to my mind at least, a little peculiar.
The experience of nearly 30 years in practice has left me, with what I hope, is a healthy attitude to change. It is now my job to challenge, and where I can, reform poor practice. But it is also my job as a judge, and in particular as a leadership judge, to teach my peers and to protect and preserve principles of justice that have endured for hundreds of years, despite attempts by over powerful rulers, rioting mobs and sometimes our own complacency, to degrade the quality of our institution.
This year is an important year for anniversaries. For Bolton School, it is our 500 / 100 year celebration. I value it as an institution and I am hugely grateful to it for what it did for me. 800 years ago another event occurred which is of some importance to lawyers. That was the signing of the Magna Carta. What is important about the charter is that part of it remains the law of the land today. Its principles are so important that they are recited in the constitution of the United States of America, and in the constitutions and laws of many other countries around the world. One part that remains good law today is:
“No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be dispossessed of his land, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other way destroyed; nor will we convict him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right“.
A more modern take on this would be the famous quote from Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls in 1977 who said, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”. It has an important ring to it; nobody is so important that they can interfere with your legal privileges, without due process.
I suppose that sums up my job very well. Neither a Minister in Government, nor Parliament, nor for that matter anyone else, can tell me what to do as a judge unless they pass a law that I have to implement. They cannot tell me what a law means or the way in which it is to be implemented. Those are all matters, like guilt and innocence or right and wrong, which are to be interpreted and decided by an independent judiciary. Remember, that the promises or threats of politicians are no more than that. It is the decisions they make when they are in power that are important, and those decisions are subject to the law.
There are three parts to our unwritten constitution: the laws that Parliament makes, the decisions that the Government makes and the decisions that the judges make. Each part has to respect the other for the system to work, but the law is the glue that holds the system together. It is a representation in carefully crafted language of our shared values. It protects the citizen from the arbitrary decisions of the state, and each of us from one another.
The privilege of looking after something that important, brings with it responsibilities. Whether you are sentencing someone to life imprisonment for murder, overturning a Government Minister for acting unlawfully, or making a decision concerning a medical treatment or children’s case which will make the difference between life and death, as a judge you apply not just legal principles, but also personal and shared values. We call those values legal policy; reflecting what is right and giving appropriate respect to the different beliefs of members of society.
The quality of what we do as judges and the language we use comes from our shared values. The ability to see that, and to add value, is what leadership is all about. Judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal have to be good leaders. Making our laws responsive to society’s needs whilst maintaining our legal system as the best, or one of the best in the world, requires constant questioning and improvement, and a vision consistently applied.
The judges in the UK are not alone in doing this, nor were we the first to have a legal system like this. 1400 years ago, the Japanese Constitution recognised that different people may have different views about the same decision. They said, “let us not be resentful when others differ from us. For all men have hearts, and each heart has its own leanings. Their right is our wrong and our right is their wrong”.
Respect for the diversity of humankind and humanity are essential if you are going to be a good decision maker. That is one of the values my headmaster taught me before I left. My History teacher taught me that leadership and power involve emotional intelligence. He used to be fond of quoting Schopenhauer: “talent hits a target no-one else can hit; genius hits a target no-one else can see”.
My Science and Maths teachers taught me to identify with precision what I was seeking to prove, and how to evaluate success. My Economics teacher taught me that politics is all about the assessment of risk in decision-making. My English teacher taught me the importance and beauty of language, and my Sports teacher taught me the importance of the team; how to lead and how to enjoy being a member of it.
However, it was my Art teacher Derek De Maine, who taught me the most important lesson; to see, not just to look. Don’t just gaze through the window, but take time to study and scrutinise what you see around you. If you see what you are looking at, you will discover things others have not. Whether you are an artist, a scientist, a sportsman or a businessman, seeing what other people see will make you a better leader, and maybe even an innovator. Everything changes over time, but it only changes for the better if you make an effort and contribute. If you understand that, you will use their leadership skills instead of wasting them.
In 40 years’ time, make sure you can say to someone that you did something you feel good about. It isn’t a bad ambition. It will give you self-respect as you try, and I hope achieve, and it will make you realise not just that you’re worth it, but that everyone else is worth it as well.”