Earlier this month the 2011 Orwell Book Prize was awarded to The Rule of Law by Lord Bingham who was Lord Chief Justice from 1996 to 2008 and who died in September 2010.
Originating in a lecture given at Cambridge University in 2006 the book provides fascinating insight into a phrase that is frequently quoted yet rarely examined. Both accessible and readable, the author treats the reader as an equal.
Milestones In The Develpoment Of The Rule Of Law
Lord Bingham begins by descibing the importance of the Rule of Law and defining its core principle very broadly ‘that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts’.
He selects 12 legal milestones that mark the development of the Rule of Law. These are, Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the abolition of torture, the Petition of Right of 1628 which he considers to be the lineal descendant of Magna Carta, Sir Matthew’s Hales’s resolutions ( guidelines for judicial practice made not long after the Petition of Right), the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act of 1679, the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701, the Constitution of the United States of America, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen 1789, the American Bill of Rights, the law of war and finally the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What Is The Rule Of Law?
Lord Bingham then goes into more detail on what the Rule of Law means to us today. He identifies eight principles whilst at the same time acknowledging that others would come up with different ones. These features of the rule of Law are that the law must be accessible and clear to all, questions of legal right and liability should be resolved by law not discretion, laws should apply to all equally, public officers and those in government should excercise their powers fairly and should not exceed their powers, the law should protect fundamental human rights, civil disputes should be resoved without inordinate delay and prohibitive cost, the right to a fair trial and finally the state should comply with its international obligations.
Lord Bingham concludes by going into the enormous strains placed on the Rule of Law today but in a divided world he believes it to be an ideal that is ‘the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal secular religion’.