Posted by: aboutalbion | August 4, 2012

Rule of Law (5)

This week, I’ve been reading and reflecting on Tom Bingham’s 2006 Cambridge lecture because of his last sentence.  Here is a distinguished judge reflecting on his long career, and concluding his lecture thus:

“For it means that we are not, as we are sometimes seen, mere custodians of a body of arid prescriptive rules but are, with others, the guardians of an all but sacred flame which animates and enlightens the society in which we live.”

I am drawn to the picture of “the rule of law” as a sacred flame that hosts the wisdom of the people that affirm it.

As I write, my rule of law country is hosting the summer Olympic Games.  Before the opening ceremony, the build-up to these games included a 70 day journey around the UK for the flame of the Olympic torch.  During ten weeks, the flame was passed from one torch-bearer to another several thousand times, and very large enthusiastic crowds came out to witness the progress of this torch.

When I saw these images on the television news, my imagination envisaged crowds affirming “the rule of law” as a sacred flame.  For me, “the rule of law” is an animating and enlightening central organising principle of my country – which is why in a previous series of posts I have explored the idea of “the rule of law” contributing to the UK being regarded as a religion from an anthropological point of view.  A religion needs a numinous central organising principle, such as “the rule of law”.

[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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