In his lecture to the Administrative Law Bar Association earlier this month, Lord Sumption surveys the concept of “anxious scrutiny” – a judicial method which he characterises as a forerunner to the principle of proportionality. The term was actually coined by Lord Bridge in Bugdaycay (1986), and was meant to apply where the rights engaged in a case were sufficiently fundamental, and stretched the traditional “Wednesbury” test to public authority decisions or actions which were not, on the face of it, irrational. (The citation given in the PDF of the speech incidentally is incorrect). The same way of thinking had been arrived at in the US courts a few years earlier, with their “hard look” doctrine, but to Lord Sumption there was something peculiarly English about the “crab-like” way in which our courts approached and eventually acknowledged this doctrine, hitherto alien to the judicial toolbox.
But if we apply anxious scrutiny to the doctrine itself, Sumption suggests, it raises more questions than it answers. Continue reading
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
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