We should not be sanguine about our own safeguards. My wish for 2020 is for a genuine commitment to uphold the Rule of Lawby Helena Kennedy / December 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
My heart sank when Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, declaimed in his pantomime tones that something had to be done about the Supreme Court. He had not liked the judgment the court had made against the government on its decision to prorogue parliament. The appointment of senior judges should in future be subject to scrutiny by politicians, he bellowed.
He seemed to have forgotten that an attorney general is supposed to act not just for his party in government but also in the public interest. Undermining judicial independence flies directly in the face of the Rule of Law, which one would have thought an AG held close to his heart.
The court’s decision was by no means a display of judicial partisanship about leaving or remaining in the European Union, as he was inferring, but was a unanimous decision about the constitutional role of parliament in a representative democracy. According to the court, the prorogation of parliament in the midst of decision-making about our departure from the EU was a matter of constitutional significance, and a deprivation of time for debate was unlawful. Cox was out of order and playing to a populist trope that the judges are part of an establishment elite, (as though Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Cox himself—all educated at private schools—are not) and have to be brought into line.
In the very week when this decision by the court was made, I spoke on the Rule of Law at a conference of the International Bar Association in Seoul. It is the umbrella organisation of 187 Bar Associations from around the world and the conference hosted thousands of lawyers. In my address, I expressed my profound belief in the independence of the judiciary and mentioned the recent judgment in the UK Supreme Court. To my surprise, the audience rose to its feet in acclaim. Afterwards, lawyers from Hungary, the Philippines, Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, Brazil and many other parts of the world described how important it was for their populations and for their judges to see on television how an independent judiciary functions.
Populist leaders and their hangers-on do not like having to conform to the rule of law. They actually do not like any rules not of their making. Since it is judges who…