The rule of law—Prospect’s new report

Safeguarding the UK’s legal excellence
December 8, 2020

The United Kingdom is a legal powerhouse, its reputation for excellence forged over centuries. England is the home of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, and has since exported its legal system around the world. Stability and flexibility are among that system’s greatest strengths.

We are regularly reminded of the history. But that excellence is very much still with us today. As Nicholas Phillips, former president of the Supreme Court, told me in research for this report: “Our judiciary has a reputation for high calibre and integrity—the two go together.” Our wider legal infrastructure is outstanding. This is important as a matter of constitutional principle but also brings economic benefits. “The majority of commercial contracts around the world are still governed by English law,” Phillips said. “That makes London a natural forum for resolving disputes.”

So is that “job done”? Not exactly. A big concern as we sent this report to press was the Internal Market Bill, legislation whose passage without amendment would itself have constituted an infringement of international law. For a country seeking new partners around the globe, the episode was deeply regrettable. The offending clauses have now been withdrawn but as former lord chief justice John Thomas told me, perceptible damage has been done.

Careful attention must be paid also to the government’s programme of constitutional reform. There is every case for examining the operation of judicial review and the Human Rights Act, so long as it is conducted in a spirit of genuine evidence-based policymaking.

Yet the strength of our position is such that the UK’s legal calibre is not for a moment in question. It is woven into our democratic fabric. Our status will always be top tier: the question is how to make a permanent claim on the number one spot. We hope this report provides a few answers.


A legacy of 800 years
Now comes the next chapter
Robert Buckland

Save judicial review
A constitutional cornerstone
David Lammy

Second thoughts
Judges change their minds
David Neuberger

Justice delayed
Battling the backlog
Emily Lawford interviews Amanda Pinto

The wonder of the common law
Hardwired with humanity
Thomas Poole

Charting the courts
The justice system—mapped
David McAllister and Emily Lawford

Our word is our bond
International law matters
Bob Neill

The overseas impunity bill
A licence for brutality
Harriet Harman

Parliament passed the buck
The judiciary picked it up 
Alex Dean interviews John Thomas

A legislative horror show
The scourge of delegated legislation
Alexandra Sinclair and Joe Tomlinson

Plying one's trade
The power of exports
Antonia Romeo

Whistling in the wind
Protect those who speak out
John Bowers

What's it worth to you?
The value of English law
Elizabeth Gloster and Guy Beringer

How to write a judgment
Keep it short
Robin Jacob

A word from our sponsors:

The rule of law is a living culture
Not a constitutional abstraction
Murray Hunt

The firmest of foundations
English law is an instrument of exceptional commercial power—and will remain so. This is why
Gregory Shumaker, Sion Richards and Sarah Batley

London, recharged
How to guarantee continued legal innovation
Catherine McGuinness