The late great judge, who died ten years ago, would not have stood idly by while Johnson and his gang dismantled our democratic safeguardsby Helena Kennedy / August 30, 2020 / Leave a comment
The government, still smarting from the prorogation saga last year, is threatening to “reform” the Supreme Court and intimidate judges, to deter them from making supposedly political decisions. It has already announced one review of how the courts work with a loaded remit, and run by a panel with limited relevant experience. This destructive path, followed in the name of patriotism and “taking back control,” reveals a failure to understand the Rule of Law.
What does that phrase, more mouthed than understood, actually mean? No one did more to elucidate it in theory, including in a book of that title, and to put it into practice in shaping the British legal system than the late Lord Bingham, one of the only men in modern times to have occupied all the most senior judicial offices—Master of Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord. From his role in forming the UK Supreme Court, to his contribution to integrating the European Convention on Human Rights into English law, there is no comparable English judge.
Ten years since he died, he is greatly missed—by most of us. I am sure that Dominic Cummings and the wrecking tendency within government would not have recognised his intellectual heft. I can also say with reasonable confidence that, had he been alive, he too would have found Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue parliament unlawful and would have supported the earlier Gina Miller judgment that only a sovereign parliament, not the executive, can give notice to withdraw from the EU. He would almost certainly have been on the Cummings hit list.
Bingham’s faith in the rule of law as the central pillar of democracy was unshakeable: it is, he argued, perhaps the greatest unifying factor in a world divided by nationality, race, religion and wealth—“the nearest we are likely to approach to a universal secular religion.” This conviction shaped his career, and defined what became his legacy: defence of the vital need for an independent judiciary and the recognition that the rule of law is not a barren concept but one imbued with values, including respect for human rights.
Having had a largely commercial practice at the Bar, Bingham was an unexpected champion of modern human rights. Upon appointment as Master of Rolls in…