The Stories Behind Great Cases

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending a launch for my colleague Allan Hutchinson’s new book, Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How they Shaped the World.

In the book, Hutchinson tells the stories behind, and assesses the legacies of, eight well-known cases from across the common law world. Well-known, that is, to law students, law professors, and lawyers. But the book is intended to have a broader appeal. By setting each case in social and political context, and focusing on character and incident rather than on legal doctrine, Hutchinson seeks to put a human face on law, and to convey the “evanescent, dynamic, messy, productive, tantalizing, and bottom-up” character of the common law.

Having now read a couple of chapters, I have no doubt that the book will be embraced by a non-legal audience. These are great stories, told in a compelling and accessible style. But it’s also illuminating reading for those of us already fully steeped in law, as most of us will have encountered these cases before only in diminished form. Here Hutchinson restores the richness that is routinely stripped away as cases make their way through the courts, and into law reports and casebooks.

Every year I offer my first year torts students a brief introduction to the field of law and literature in a session titled “A Closer Look at the Facts.” We look beyond the facts articulated in a judgment to demonstrate that they’re not simply an objective account of the relevant evidence, but rather a narrative carefully crafted to support a particular legal resolution. Then we broaden our lens still further to discuss the layers of storytelling that precede the courtroom and continue on after the issuing of the judgment.

Hutchinson’s Is Eating People Wrong? promises not just an interesting and entertaining read, but also some excellent new material for that exercise. I skipped straight from the introduction to the chapter on Donoghue v. Stevenson, and I can tell you that I will most definitely be integrating it into my next torts syllabus. Now, on to Roncarelli v. Duplessis and Hadley v. Baxendale

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