18 June 2020
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” said Martin Luther King in the context of White America’s silence with respect to the struggle for civil rights. The Prime Minister considers it relevant that the murder of George Floyd occurred thousands of miles away – “in another jurisdiction” – yet the former colonies that now compose the United States of America is a jurisdiction which owes its common law legal system and heritage to the United Kingdom. St. George Tucker, in the appendix to his 1803 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries, wrote that
the common law of England, and every statute of that Kingdom, made for the security of the life, liberty, or property of the subject … were brought over to America, by the first settlers of the colonies, respectively; and remained in full force therein .
The Black Lives Matter movement illuminates an incontrovertible chasm in the application of the rule of law in liberal democracy. The basic premise of the rule of law, which in Joseph Raz’s conception is that it should be capable of guiding behaviour, includes the necessary restriction on crime-preventing agencies from perverting the law. A society in which those tasked with upholding and applying the law – under the powers of stop-and-search and arrest – are instead themselves regular perpetrators of racist discrimination and violence, is one in which the rule of law can become a randomised hope that is more or less likely to be realised depending on the race of the citizen in question.
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