Tony Blair’s Upholding the Rule of Law: A Reflection

I was in attendance at the Mandarin Oriental on Friday to attend the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Law Lecture series. The speaker for this year was Tony Blair, former PM of the United Kingdom, and he would speak on the topic ‘Upholding the Rule of Law: A Reflection’.

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It took a while for Blair to delve into the topic proper, although it was still entertaining to hear him speak about his barrister days and his eventual move into politics.

Very quickly, you could tell that Blair adopted a very utilitarian approach to his topic on the Rule of Law. You may first ask, what is the Rule of Law? A basic description of it would be that no one is above the law. As Dicey would put it, one of the principles of the rule of law is the absolute supremacy of regular law as opposed to arbitrary power. Some of the elements that Blair identified would constitute the Rule of Law is that of an independent and strong judiciary, as well as an independent Bar.

In this day and age of the awakening of China and India and the economic forces they wield, the rise of sovereign wealth funds, and the development of new business sectors, made the Rule of Law all the more relevant rather than it being cast aside. ‘Footloose capital’, as Blair put it, would need an outlet, the growing global workforce would need an outlet to live and work. The Rule of Law would aid in such a process.

“Get good governance. Get a proper judiciary, proper laws”.

“Get a reputation that there is a commercial and criminal legal system that operates fairly and then wait for businesses to come, because they will.”

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Blair stressed that a judiciary which was still corrupt indicated the immaturity of a country. A judiciary that became corrupt, was an indicated of a country in decline. He also emphasised that the Rule of Law did not just mean an independent judiciary, but it also necessitated an efficient judicial system. He repeated the oft-used phrase that justice delayed is justice denied. Further, judges could not be tainted with any allegations of corruption. The public’s confidence in the judiciary must be upheld at all times.

Blair also shared with the audience the obvious tension he felt between the executive, in making laws, and that of the judiciary, who interpreted the laws he, as Prime Minister, had crafted. He was almost critical of the judicial activism in making law rather than interpreting it.

He shared with the audience the passing of certain anti-terrorist laws which provided for preventive detention. These laws were eventually challenged in the House of Lords, where the Court declared these laws contrary to the Human Rights Act. He expressed his steadfast disagreement with the decision, but he was also steadfast in agreeing that the Court had the power to make such a decision.

“It is right that they can; that they are above me and not me above them.”

I have to say that Tony Blair is an excellent speaker. His oratory skills and ability to command attention. I cannot say that I enjoyed the content of his speech that much, but it was enlightening though to see the viewpoint from the Executive, from his vantage point of Prime Minister and wishing to create laws with the greater public good in mind, but having the necessary stumbling block of the check and balance of the Judiciary interpreting such laws. The speech hardly broke new ground in academic discourse, but still interesting to listen to Blair speak nonetheless.

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