Brexit Britain must recognise that the rule of law is vital – Scotsman comment

It is stating the obvious to say that lawyers play a key role in the rule of law.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 12:30 pm
Boris Johnson seems to think lawyers are somehow to blame for impeding justice (Picture: Aaron Chown/WPA pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson seems to think lawyers are somehow to blame for impeding justice (Picture: Aaron Chown/WPA pool/Getty Images)

And, again, it is obvious – or, at least, it should be – that the rule of law is vital to life in a liberal democracy and particularly its economy. If a foreign company fears they will not be treated fairly by the courts, they might think twice about investing.

So those who decide to make political attacks on the legal profession stray onto dangerous ground. However, it is into this arena that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have stepped, with claims that lawyers are somehow getting in the way of justice.

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Scotland's top lawyers accuse Boris Johnson of using ‘facile and offensive’ rhetoric

In a Conservative party conference speech, Johnson said the law would be changed to stop “the whole criminal justice system from being hamstrung by what the Home Secretary would doubtless – and rightly – call the lefty human rights lawyers”.

Now Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, has hit back in an open letter to both, pointing out that lawyers who act against the state are not “lefty” or “activist”.

“In this country... instances of violence against lawyers are, fortunately, rare. However, in a climate of increasing populism, this sort of rhetoric is not only facile and offensive: it is potentially harmful,” he adds. “… I simply cannot fathom why it is thought in any way appropriate to attempt to vilify, in public, those that are simply doing their job, in accordance with the rule of law. I would, accordingly, and again with great respect, ask each of you to eschew such unhelpful language, and to recognise that challenges to the executive are a necessary part of our democracy. Anything less would be a confession that we no longer live in a democracy.”

Johnson and Patel’s remarks were made not that long after three judges were declared to be “enemies of the people” – a phrase associated with dictators like Stalin – on the front page of one newspaper for having the temerity to agree parliament should have the final say over Brexit.

People across the globe are watching to see what kind of country Brexit Britain becomes. If it loses a world-class reputation for adherence to the rule of law, we will all pay a heavy price, and not just financially.

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