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News > Club News > A Legal Life: Michael Zander KC

A Legal Life: Michael Zander KC

Michael Zander's mission throughout his professional life has been to make the justice system work better, for those at the receiving end of the legal process.
7 Nov 2022
Club News
Professor Michael Zander KC
Professor Michael Zander KC

Born in Berlin in 1932,  he and his family came to England in 1937 to escape Htiler. From 1938 to 1946, he went to the local Gayhurst Preparatory School. While he had a place to go on to public school, the 13-year-old Michael chose instead to go to the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. ‘I later discovered I was the first boy ever to go to the local grammar school from my prep school,’ he says. ‘But I thought it was the responsible thing to do and it made sense financially.

His achievements are legion—but what changes have brought him the most satisfaction?

He singles out three developments: law centres; the duty solicitor scheme in magistrates’ courts; and the Bill of Rights that became the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998)

Justice for all

Zander was in America in 1964 on a Ford Foundation grant looking into the development of neighbourhood law firms as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s ‘war on poverty’. He became the first person in the UK to write about the idea, and was chief draftsman of the pamphlet Justice for All, published in 1968 by the Society of Labour Lawyers, which recommended setting up ‘local legal centres’ in poor areas. The first law centre opened in North Kensington in June 1970 through the initiative of local lawyers, led by Peter Kandler.

‘Law centres have become a very significant part of the structure of legal services,’ he says. ‘I just wish there were more as they do a good job.’

Call of duty

In 1969, a research project he undertook with students led to his article ‘Unrepresented Defendants in the Criminal Courts’ in the Criminal Law Review.

‘Contrary to official wisdom at the time, the study found that the majority of defendants sentenced to imprisonment by magistrates were unrepresented,’ he says.

He was the chief author of JUSTICE’s subsequent 1971 pamphlet The Unrepresented Defendant in the Magistrates’ Court. The following year, local lawyers, working through their local law society, set up the first duty solicitor scheme in Bristol. By 1977 that had grown to 79 and it became a national scheme operating in all magistrates’ courts under the Legal Aid Act 1982.

Standing the test of time

In 1975, Zander published his pamphlet A Bill of Rights? and played a key role in the campaign to persuade senior members of the Labour Party to accept the need to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK legislation.

‘It was a huge triumph and led to a workable and sensible piece of legislation,’ he recalls. ‘The Act has been a huge power for good and I was extremely unhappy with the attempt by Dominic Raab, the last time he was Lord Chancellor, to undo some of the benefits. I was delighted when the government halted his Bill. I am very disappointed that he has been re-appointed and very concerned that his wretched British Bill of Rights may now go forward.’

Getting institutions to move is hard work. ‘You have to pursue ideas energetically and when they say no, you go on and when they say no again, you go on again,’ he says. ‘Sometimes you get the result you want—but you also need to know when to give up graciously.’

While not all his arrows hit their targets, The Economist magazine perhaps best summed up his legacy in a 1976 article starting ‘Michael Zander—every profession should have one’.

For a more indepth interview covering a remarkable career spanning six decades here is a link to the New Law Journal.

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