Reading how Peter Williams was harrassed to death and Matthew Parris's account in the Times of his dealings with Leveson, the question arose: is the legal mindset a positive menace?
By this I don't mean that our laws are arbitrary and repressive, or that some lawyers are venal or incompetent. Instead, what I mean is the (over-)emphasis upon the idea that correct procedures, rules, must be followed - that what matters is due process or following codes of conduct.
This is costly. Not least is that due legal process is slow and expensive and thus imposes large costs even upon the just and innocent. Simon Singh might have won his case against the BCA eventually, but he suffered months of stress, expense and distraction. The fear of such costs leads people to avoid even the small risk of litigation, with the result that journalists are cowed by the mere threat of libel actions, missing children are not found, school trips cease, volunteering is discouraged and companies are paralysed by a fear of litigation.
It's not sufficient to point out that such fears are often based upon misunderstanding; it's entirely reasonable for people to want to avoid a small risk of the high cost of finding out.
Yet another cost is that, just as financial rewards can crowd out other motives, so law can crowd out ethical behaviour. Philippe Aghion and colleagues have shown how regulations can breed distrust, as companies behave to the letter of regulations rather than spirit.
Just as due legal process doesn't prevent guilty people being acquitted or innocent ones convicted, so regulations and codes of conduct don't necessarily guarantee that business will behave well. The highly regulated pensions industry, for example, continues to rip off savers, and journalists might be right to fear that a post-Leveson code of conduct will do little to promote good journalism.
Rules do not guarantee virtue or wisdom. The coalition's fiscal policy, for example, is lawful - but it is uninformed by evidence or rationality.
In light of all this, it shouldn't be surprising that there's some evidence that large numbers of lawyers can be bad for long-term growth (pdf).
What I'm saying here is that lawyers are not necessarily objective arbiters of trust or efficiency. They have their ideologies and blindspots just as any professionals do - a stress upon rules rather than virtues, and on processes rather than outcomes.
In saying all this I am not denying that there's a place for a legal mindset. There certainly is. But this mindset must not dominate society, any more than should the mindset of engineers, doctors and - yes - economists. To believe otherwise is to commit the fallacy of deformation professionelle. My concern is that the pomposity of the legal system - "the majesty of the law" - and politician's fetish for judicial inquiries prevents people seeing this.