Monday, December 01, 2008

The rule of law

Two MPs who between them have significantly contributed to undermining democracy and the role of parliament are now amongst those most voluble in defending parliamentary privilege – and both are given space in The Daily Telegraph.

The first pile of cant we have already looked at - that was Nick Clegg who gravely opines that "the sight of police rifling through boxes of Mr Green's correspondence, through disc after disc of computerised information, will erode public confidence in the role MPs play in their communities. All at a time when confidence in politicians is already at an all-time low."

Then we have democrat extraordinaire Denis Macshane, former Europe minister, who tells us that, "We defend our privileges not to be self-important or to defame our foes, but as a vital democratic defence of the rights of a free people in a country that lives under rule of law, not under decisions of the police."

With Mr Macshane's connivance, of course, we are no longer "a free people in a country that lives under the rule of law", but citizens of the European Union, subject to its arbitrary law which is beyond the reach of either the UK parliament or democracy. As for Mr Clegg's concern that, "confidence in politicians is already at an all-time low," he might better expend his energies on working out why that might be.

Then there is the "rule of law" that Mr Macshane prattles on about. Here, he might like to set himself a test by asking the following: if the police have reasonable suspicion that a person has committed an offence; if they then arrest him in accordance with legal procedures; if they question him within the framework of the procedures set down and agreed by parliament, and within the time-span allowed; if they then release him on bail, allowing them to carry out further inquiries and then either to charge the person or release him from bail – where is there conflict with the rule of law?

Further, if the police themselves ask permission from the Speaker of the House to search the office of an MP and take away material pertinent to their enquiry, and they are given it by the Speaker, where then is there any cause for complaint about police conduct?

And, when Mr Mcshane (and many of our forum contributors) have finished hyperventilating, they might care to refresh their memories about what the "rule of law" actually entails. Wikipedia does a good job, stating that, in its most basic form, is the principle that no one is above the law. It cites Thomas Paine and his pamphlet Common Sense (1776), which notes: "For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other." The entry then elaborates:

Perhaps the most important application of the rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps that are referred to as due process. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy.
Perhaps ironically, the Wikipedia entry also tells us that it has been said that the phrase "the Rule of Law" has become meaningless thanks to ideological abuse and general over-use. Certainly, I am not minded to take lessons on the "rule of law", nor democracy, nor even "parliamentary privilege" from the likes of Mr Mcshane or Mr Clegg - nor indeed from the mob rule which seems to be prevailing on this issue.

And if you wish to assert that majority opinion is always right, why is the Labour Party in government?