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Professor Michael Sandel

Michael SandelMichael J. Sandel (born March 5, 1953) is an American political philosopher and a political philosophy professor at Harvard University. His course “Justice” is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on television.

It has been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world, including in China, where Sandel was named the “most influential foreign figure of the year” (China Newsweek).

He is also known for his critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice in his first book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.

Sandel was born in Minneapolis but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was thirteen. He was president of his senior class at Palisades High School (1971) and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in politics (1975). He received his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, where he studied under philosopher Charles Taylor.

Philosophical views

Sandel subscribes to a certain version of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein, he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Rawls’ argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which he claims allows us to become “unencumbered selves”.

Sandel’s view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil. Some examples of such ties are those with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with, already attached. Because they are not consciously acquired, it is impossible to separate oneself from such ties. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance should be postulated. Criticism such as Sandel’s inspired Rawls to subsequently argue that his theory of justice was not a “metaphysical” theory but a “political” one, a basis on which an overriding consensus could be formed among individuals and groups with many different moral and political views.

Sandel has taught the famous “Justice” course at Harvard for two decades. More than 15,000 students have taken the course, making it one of the most highly attended in Harvard’s history. The fall 2007 class was the largest ever at Harvard, with a total of 1,115 students. The fall 2005 course was recorded and is offered online. An abridged form of this recording is now a 12-episode TV series, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Legal Aid Changes and Representation


Courtroom SceneLegal AidChanges to the legal aid system in England and Wales are leading many in the legal profession to expect  a rise in the number of people representing themselves in court.

Restrictions have now been placed on the availability of legal aid available to people seeking a divorce or those involved in custody disputes. It is also being restricted in cases involving issues relating to immigration, debt and benefits.

The changes, which came into force at the beginning of April, are an attempt by the UK Government to target Legal Aid financial resource for those who most need it.

However it will lead those who cannot afford a lawyer to consider standing up in front of a judge and representing themselves.

 Maura McGowan, chairman of the Bar Council advises the following : “First of all, look and see if you can get advice from a voluntary agency, Citizens Advice or something like that,” and advises those who are unable to acquire legal aid to consider spending a little money on buying some time with a lawyer . “He or she will tell you whether to stop the case, even at that stage, and help provide an outline if you have a case.”

Resolution, a membership group with 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals who deal with family disputes also endorse this advice; and also note that it’s not essential to have a lawyer involved throughout a court case and their advice can be used on occasion as required but adding that working out a budget  and agreeing it in your first meeting, then making use of legal help for the initial stage of a case then returning at a later stage.

 Judges are also more sympathetic where there is a situation with a defendant or appellant who is not as legally represented up against an opposing better legally represented party.
The Bar Council of England and Wales has produced a 70-page guide to help people represent themselves in court.
Original Source of information from an article in BBC News Website.

The Rights Issue of Legal Aid Bill

Amnesty International are lobbying for amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

It’s researchers have documented serious human rights infringements by UK companies overseas. The Bill proposed by the UK government Amnesty believes would make it almost impossible for victims of these abuses to seek justice in UK courts.

One example was last year thousands of victims of illegal waste dumping in Ivory Coast successfully claimed compensation from British oil company Trafigura. Under the proposed legislation, such cases would be a thing of the past.

To deny these victims justice is to fuel a cycle of impunity. We want to bring about an amendment to the proposed Bill to ensure that where corporate abuses occur overseas, those affected can access justice in the UK. Read more about the human rights impact of the Legal Aid Bill

For more information visit Amnesty International


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