Wednesday, 10 August 2011
The raw end of the Rule of Law
There is an very unfashionable philosophical school of jurisprudence which sees Law as merely the rhetorical expression of the power of the state. Law merely sets down in words the directives of the State, telling the citizens what to do and what not to do. Usually the words are enough - people comprehend them (or at least the basics) and obey them. Sometimes, like Monday night in London and last night in the West Midlands and North West, the words are not enough. There is required a physical manifestation of the words to enforce their meaning. We rely on the Police forces of this country to provide that physical manifestation - to enforce the law. Sometimes that physical manifestration has to get very physical - if people are smashing windows, stealing goods, setting fires and threatening and taking life then the Police have to appear, intervene and apprehend. If the perpetrators fight back and resist arrest, then the Police must move in and fight back. Many lawyers prefer to see Law as merely existing in the abstract (positivism is the posh name for this) and like to think that it has nothing to do with a police officer in riot gear banging a rioting teenager on the head in the lawful exercise of his power to remedy breaches of the peace. The events of this week (so far) are one of those thankfully rare reminders that at the end of the day, after all of the pontificating in the Supreme Court is over, the ultimate expression of the rule of law is its raw unmitigated enforcement, by force, when that rule is being flouted by so many and in such a flagrant way. The preservation of a democracy sometimes, thankfully rarely in this country, requires the use of force - the quaint historic expression in our tradition is the preservation of the Queen's peace. I should like to thank every one of the sworn Constables who kept the peace outside my front door last night and who protected my family from harm. That they should have to intervene with the use of force against citizens is regrettable, but essential - and notwithstanding that sometimes some their number fail us, they should receive our overwhelming support.