Monday, November 27, 2006

We need leaders to adhere to the rule of law

Martin Kettle had a nice article in the Guardian on Saturday reporting on Lord Bingham's recent speech at Cambridge on the rule of law.

"In my view, no more important speech has been given in this country this year, for Bingham warns that some of the most sensitive decisions made by government are currently incompatible with his definition of the rule of law...

the law must be accessible and intelligible; disputes must be resolved by application of the law rather than exercise of discretion; the law must apply equally to all; it must protect fundamental human rights; disputes should be resolved without prohibitive cost or inordinate delay; public officials must use power reasonably and not exceed their powers; the system for resolving differences must be fair. Finally, a state must comply with its international law obligations. Now start to tease out what these implications might mean in practice. This is where Bingham's legal principles suddenly lock gears with the real world.

If the law is to be accessible and intelligible, for example, then there must be an end both to judicial prolixity and to what Bingham calls "the legislative hyperactivity which appears to have become a permanent feature of our governance - in 2004, some 3,500 pages of primary legislation; in 2003, nearly 9,000 pages of statutory instruments." This applies particularly in the "torrent of criminal legislation", not all of which is "readily intelligible". To uphold the rule of law, in other words, lawmakers will have to do less of it and be clearer...

No government is perfect. But when the most revered of these guardians suggests that critical decisions by ministers have fallen short of the rule of law on a range of counts, then it follows that Britain needs a better form of government, whose members can succeed where the current ones have failed and who better understand the real meaning of the principles they claim to support."

Update: John points out that an audio recording of Lord Binghamm's speech is also available here.

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