UCL News


Lord Chancellor invokes spirit of Bentham

8 January 2004

In December 2003 Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, gave a speech, organised by UCL's Constitution Unit, on the government's continuing programme of constitutional reform.

The Lord Chancellor began his speech by praising the university's spiritual founder, Jeremy Bentham: "Today Bentham is little read and little understood beyond a caricature of the cold, unfeeling utilitarian. We often fail to remember that his doctrine of utilitarianism was, in fact, a radical and progressive philosophy which emerged from the impatient optimism of the European Enlightenment."

Lord Falconer acknowledged Bentham's commitment to education for all and his desire for constitutional reform: "It was his belief that Britain's archaic constitutional and legal arrangements were an affront to rational government and a cloak for injustice which led him to become such an intellectual pioneer of reform." He stated that his new government department, the Department of Constitutional Affairs, "is committed to similar values of openness, rationalism, and indeed radicalism".

UCL's Constitution Unit focuses on the design, implementation and consequences of constitutional reform in the UK. Noting that a government priority since coming to power in 1997 had been devolution, Lord Falconer praised the unit's contribution of "forthright and powerful research" which has "transformed the nature of public debate about the constitution".

The speech, which is the first in a series, gave an overview of the government's plans for constitutional reform based around the three values of 'credibility and effectiveness', 'democracy and public engagement' and 'trust and accountability'. Speeches later in the year will deal with issues of freedom of information, human rights and voting.

For a full transcript of the speech or to find out more about the Constitution Unit, use the links below.

Constitutional Reform Speech
UCL's Constitution Unit