Have human rights hijacked the language of morals? – and other questions: Laws

Lord Justice Laws’ Inaugural Lecture at Northumbria University, 1 November 2012 – read here 

This is a fascinating and provocative lecture raising important questions about the extent to which the culture of human rights has become the currency of our moral dealings with each other and the State.

Adam commented briefly on Laws’ speech here but since it deserves a post of its own I will try to capture its essence and highlight some of its main features here without I hope too many spoilers.

Laws suggests, as Adam mentioned, that rights should properly be the duty of the State to deliver as an aspect of the public interest, not its enemy. The problem is that we have exalted rights beyond their status of public goods (along with health care, defence, education and so on) into primary moral values served to us not by the government but by the courts. Consequently these two institutions are seen to be serving opposite interests. The entrenchment of rights in morality in Laws’ view carries great danger.

It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. Continue reading

Supreme Court judge on war, intelligence and the retreat of judicial deference

The recent standoff  between two leading judicial lights, Jonathan Sumption and Stephen Sedley, may make for entertaining reading, but don’t be fooled.

Like the heated question of whether a non-entrenchment clause could be dug into our law to protect UK parliamentary sovereignty, this one wasn’t about law, or even constitutional theory; it was essentially about differing ideological positions vis a vis judicial power.

Joshua Rozenberg welcomes Sumption’s latest speech as indicative of his supportive stance  on judicial activism, particularly in the foreign policy sphere.  I don’t agree. In his  FA Mann Lecture  last November Sumption pinned his colours to the mast on judicial activism in general, and this latest fascinating survey of foreign policy case law illustrating the retreat of judicial deference must be read in that light. Continue reading