How the Judges Stood in the Way of Socialism

Bernard Porter

  • The Struggle for Civil Liberties: Political Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain 1914-1945 by K.D. Ewing and C.A. Gearty
    Oxford, 451 pp, £50.00, February 2000, ISBN 0 19 825665 5

This book’s most startling revelation – if true – concerns the state of legal education in Britain today. We are told that from their ‘first days at law school’ our young lawyers are taught that civil liberties in this country are ‘protected by the common law’ and that ‘their violation has been the fault of Parliament’. The hero of the story, law students learn, is an ‘independent judiciary’, standing steadfastly between the citizenry and tyrannical politicians. Apparently it performed this function particularly well in the first half of the 20th century, making that a ‘golden age of liberty, a time when … the common law was steadfast in its defence of political freedom’. But no historian has believed that for years, if ever. Don’t they read history books at law school?

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