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A Matter of Justice: The Legal System in Ferment 
by Michael Zander.
Tauris, 323 pp., £16.50, February 1988, 1 85043 040 3
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The Coercive State: The Decline of Democracy in Britain 
by Paddy Hillyard and Janie Percy-Smith.
Fontana, 352 pp., £5.95, February 1988, 0 00 637083 7
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... When the judges assembled to compose a Loyal Address to Queen Victoria on the opening of the Law Courts, the draft before them began: ‘We your judges, conscious as we are of our manifold defects ...’ The Master of the Rolls exploded: ‘I am not conscious of having manifold defects.’ Lord Justice Bowen, who was a scholar with a sense of humour, suggested, to mollify him, that the Address might begin: ‘We your judges, conscious as we are of each other’s manifold defects ...

Defining Anti-Semitism

Stephen Sedley, 4 May 2017

... Shorn​ of philosophical and political refinements, anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews. Where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech it is generally illegal, lying beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and of action. By contrast, criticism (and equally defence) of Israel or of Zionism is not only generally lawful: it is affirmatively protected by law ...

The Goodwin and Giggs Show

Stephen Sedley: Super-Injunctions, 16 June 2011

... For more than three hundred years the UK’s constitution has functioned remarkably well on the basis of the historic compromise reached in the course of the 17th century. The 1689 Bill of Rights forbade the impeachment or questioning of parliamentary debates and proceedings ‘in any court or place out of Parlyament’. Parliament in return has made it a rule, enforced until now by the speakers of both Houses, that it will not interfere with the decisions of the courts, whether by anticipating their judgments or by attacking them ...

Confidence and Supply

Stephen Sedley: Confidence and Supply, 14 December 2017

... Suppose​ Emmanuel Macron’s new party had found itself short of a majority in the National Assembly, and Macron had done a deal with the Corsican nationalists that in return for their votes he would steer well over a billion euros of subsidy to the Corsican economy. The French judge to whom I put this started laughing: ‘No – impossible – unconstitutional – unthinkable ...

Professional Misconduct

Stephen Sedley, 17 December 2015

... Not​ for the first time, Mr Justice Peter Smith, a judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court, got his personal life and his judicial work entangled. This time it concerned his luggage, which had gone missing on a BA flight from Florence. While the luggage was still missing, BA appeared in his court as a litigant and the judge demanded to know what had happened to it; he stood down only after an unseemly wrangle with BA’s counsel ...

The Right to Die

Stephen Sedley, 27 August 2015

... When suicide​ was decriminalised in 1961, assisting suicide continued to be a crime. This was in part an acceptance of the theological view of suicide as murder, but it was also a recognition of the difficulty in many cases, with the main actor by definition unable to testify, of distinguishing assisted dying from culpable homicide. The simple binary system that resulted, however, failed to take account of cases in which the deceased’s wish to die was explicit, considered and rational, and the need for help in accomplishing it demonstrable ...

In Court

Stephen Sedley: The Prorogation Debacle, 10 October 2019

... For at least​ four centuries the courts have contested the claims of monarchs to untrammelled authority. ‘The king,’ Chief Justice Coke said in 1611, ‘hath no prerogative but what the law of the land allows him.’ Although the historic settlement of 1688-89, which gave us today’s constitutional monarchy, left in existence a wide swathe of prerogative powers, these have become subject to two governing principles ...

Keeping mum

Stephen Sedley, 2 March 1989

The Spycatcher Trial 
by Malcolm Turnbull.
Heinemann, 228 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 434 79156 3
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Reform of the Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911: Government White Paper 
HMSO, 16 pp., £2.60, June 1988, 0 10 104082 2Show More
Official Secrets Bill 
HMSO, 14 pp., £3, December 1988, 0 10 300989 2Show More
Security Service Bill 
HMSO, 8 pp., £2.60, November 1988, 9780103007892Show More
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... There is among the many departments of our well-ordered state a department which would be known if we were Chinese as “The Board of Things to be Known and Not to be Known”.’ Hilaire Belloc, writing in 1925 a satire on England as he imagined it would be in 1953, accurately linked the mandarin élitism of the Civil Service with its determination to control the supply of public information ...

Diary

Stephen Sedley: On the Guildford Four, 9 November 1989

... At almost exactly the same time as the Police were fitting up the Guildford Four, Richard Nixon was discovering that a shredder was a far more important piece of equipment than a photocopier. Late-night shredding parties have since become a feature both of US Administrations and of certain industrial enterprises as the step of judicial investigation approaches ...

Settlers v. Natives

Stephen Sedley, 8 March 2001

Questioning Sovereignty: Law, State and Nation in the European Commonwealth 
by Neil MacCormick.
Oxford, 210 pp., £40, October 2000, 0 19 826876 9
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Waitangi and Indigenous Rights: Revolution, Law and Legitimation 
by F.M. Brookfield.
Auckland, 253 pp., NZ $39.95, November 1999, 1 86940 184 0
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... It’s not too hard today to recognise the sovereign individual, supposed master of his fate and captain of his soul, as a sociopath. The idea of the sovereign state, by contrast, still commands intellectual allegiance in spite of evidence that its day is done. This is not to say that states do not continue to exist which both assert and possess the power to determine what happens inside their borders ...

Short Cuts

Stephen Sedley: The case for a national DNA register, 20 January 2005

... In principle, DNA analysis has made it possible to establish to a very high degree of probability the human source of even a minute quantity of biological matter – most notably blood, semen or saliva. The science is complex, and the degree of certainty not absolute, especially when it is necessary to differentiate between twins or siblings. But it has begun to revolutionise the process not only of detection by police but of proof in court ...

Diary

Stephen Sedley: Judge Dredd, 7 June 2007

... Q: How many judges does it take to change a light bulb? A: Change? Barely three centuries after the full-bottomed wig went out of fashion, and hardly two centuries after the sartorial demise of the short wig, Her Majesty’s judges are going to sit with bare heads. Well, almost. The short ‘bench’ wig will still be worn on formal occasions such as the Lord Chancellor’s Breakfast; judges sitting on criminal cases will continue to wear it daily; and while the change affects England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will make their own arrangements ...

‘Fluent Gaul has taught the British advocates’

Stephen Sedley: Dispute Resolution, 12 February 2009

Early English Arbitration 
by Derek Roebuck.
Holo, 312 pp., £40, April 2008, 978 0 9544056 1 8
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... When the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested in a lecture last February that there was room within national legal systems for some degree of religious law for members of particular faiths, the country shook with indignation – not at what the prelate had actually said, but at the menacing story the broadcast and print media extracted from it. The Sun’s uniquely helpful contribution was a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign, corroborating Martin Amis’s suggestion in Yellow Dog about the way the red-tops view their readers ...

Construct or Construe

Stephen Sedley: Living Originalism, 30 August 2012

Living Originalism 
by Jack Balkin.
Harvard, 474 pp., £25.95, January 2012, 978 0 674 06178 1
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... Living originalism? The heart sinks. Is this going to resemble a treatise on secular spirituality or tabloid ethics or some other well-meant oxymoron? To a degree, the despondency is justified. How can you breathe life into a text if its meaning remains what it was in 1787 or 1868? Jack Balkin, who holds one of America’s premier chairs of constitutional law, argues that you can ...

How to Comply with Strasbourg

Stephen Sedley: Strasbourg v. UK, 24 January 2013

... The states composing the Council of Europe, now 47 of them, have their own supreme court, the European Court of Human Rights, which – not unlike its US counterpart – has come under increasing fire for interfering unduly in member states’ affairs and trying to make one size of human rights compliance fit all. At a theoretical level there seems something wrong with this critique: one size should fit all, for the meaning and effect of fundamental rights cannot logically vary from one country to another ...

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