Posted by: aboutalbion | August 2, 2012

Rule of Law (3)

These are the next couple of points from Tom Bingham’s 2006 Cambridge lecture on “The Rule of Law”.  [There are eight altogether.]

 Fifth, “means must be provided for resolving, without prohibitive cost or inordinate delay, bona fide civil disputes which the parties themselves are unable to resolve”.  In his comments on this point, Bingham emphasizes that the law must enable unrestricted access to a court to those who need it.  And this leads on to the awkward question of how a poor person can use a court to assert her/his rights.  He laments the withering of the state funded ‘legal aid’ scheme, and he regrets that it is not fully accepted that the civil court system (apart from the salaries of the judges) must be self-financing with the litigants paying the full costs of their use of the court system.

 Sixth, “ministers and public officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them reasonably, in good faith, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred and without exceeding the limits of such powers”.  Here Bingham refers to the historic role of the courts to curb the excesses of the exercise of government power.  He charts the tension between government ministers, who believe that their actions are in the public interest, and judges, who have a duty to ensure that government ministers act within the law.  He points out that this tension tends to rise in times of national emergency.

[Bingham, Tom (2006) The Rule of Law. [Sir David Williams Lecture to the Centre for Public Law, University of Cambridge]. 16 November.]

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