UCL News


Woolf Icebreaker Lecture

11 October 2005

On the eve of his appointment as UCL Chair of Council, the Rt Hon Lord Woolf, outgoing Lord Chief Justice for England & Wales gave the annual Icebreaker Lecture.

Lord Harry Woolf

Entitled: 'The Developing Priority of the Rule of Law in the Chinese Economy', Lord Woolf lectured to an audience at Merchant Taylor's Hall on 28 September 2005.

The lecture followed a visit to China, where Lord Woolf was accompanied by UCL's President and Provost, Professor Malcolm Grant, and the Dean of the Faculty of Laws, Professor Michael Bridge, where he explored approaches to enhancing UCL's global law programme in China, in partnership with leading universities.

Co-organised by UCL and the 48 Group Club with sponsorship from Linklaters and in association with Asia House, the lecture discussed his visit and his perceptions of China's transition to a rules based economy.

Lord Woolf remarked on the exceptional hospitality they received, and that it was a reflection on their hosts' present attitudes towards law and justice.

During his attendance at the 22nd Congress on the Law of the World in Beijing, Lord Woolf chaired a session on the reform of the United Nations, and was the Presiding Judge at a mock trial.

He said: "The theme of the Congress was Law and Harmony. Great emphasis was placed by our Chinese hosts on the importance of the rule of law. We had a most impressive opening address by the President of China in which he stressed the importance to China of not only the rule of law, but human rights in a socialist democracy."

He then discussed his attendance at a symposium in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where he spoke on the importance of legal education and particularly its contribution to securing qualities of independence in the judiciary.

He also outlined some of the 'Woolf' reforms to the system of civil justice in England and Wales and their contribution to the speedy and inexpensive resolution of disputes.

Reflecting on the changes since his previous visits to China, he remarked on the heavy investment in new court buildings. "They indicate that, at least in the two highly devleoped cities (Shanghai and Beijing) I visited on my latest trip, there are the trappings of a modern court system to accompany the emphasis that my Chinese hosts were placing on their desire to establish China as a country that adheres to the rule of law. Such adherence is of course critical if China is to have a legal system which will support China's economic ambitions. It is also necessary if China's gloabal reputation as a nation is to match its size and power. Finally it is of great importance if China is to meet the growing expectations of its own people."

Lord Woolf then discussed the problems encountered in legal reform in such a large country, where corruption is rumoured to be rife in provincial cities, and the current system where Chinese lawyers have to give up their practicing qualification if employed by a foreign firm. He then went on to education, and the benefits of developing educational partnerships.

"Although there are already a great many more lawyers than there had been when I made my previous visit, there is still a great need for more lawyers and judges in China, particularly in specialist areas such as intellectual property. Our party, included Malcolm Grant, the President and Provost of UCL, and Michael Bridge, the Dean of the Law Faculty. They were anxious to ascertain what University College could do to assist in this situation. I detected considerable enthusiasm from our Chinese hosts for initiatives in this area. One project which was discussed was creating, in conjunction with Peking University, a chair in English Law in China, and one in Chinese Law in London. This could produce twin centres of excellence which could allow students from both jurisdictions to prepare themselves for the difficulties of studying in the other jurisdiction created by language and cultural differences."