Equality before the Law

Photo: Commonwealth Lawyers Association CLC 2013

Speaking at the Commonwealth Law Conference in South Africa earlier this year, The Right Honourable The Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales delivered a thought provoking address on Equality before the Law.

Here, The Lord Chief Justice offered his thoughts and provided some key advice which budding lawyers might find useful. A selection of his motivational excerpts can be found below:

Never take the rule of law for granted. Never, ever. The best of constitutions can be subverted. The democratic process itself can, as it did with Hitler in Nazi Germany, bring an evil dictator to power. As a result unnumbered millions died – millions in concentration camps, millions fighting to rid the world of the wickedness he had spawned. It all stemmed from the subversion of the democratic process. We, as lawyers, have the trained eyes to see, and the trained lips to voice the alarm signals. We have a particular responsibility to be vigilant.

The rule of law is a phrase which has spawned many children. We can all make it say many things, and even the greatest jurists among us struggle from time to time to define precisely what we do mean. But as lawyers we rather understand when the rule of law is applied, and recognise it, and understand and recognise when it is not. But if we are looking for one crucial ingredient in the rule of law it is that we must live in a society in which every citizen is treated equally by the law.

Pause for a moment to reflect, that if we are not very careful indeed, if the law starts to treat one group rather than each individual comprised in it differently from another group – we are starting a very dangerous journey of which the very evil of apartheid was the ultimate culmination. Perhaps therefore we should identify the principle more clearly: perhaps it is better expressed by asserting that none of the considerations which can lead to prejudice against an individual citizen has the remotest relevance to the way in which the courts should deal with him or her or his or her case. So skin colour, race, gender, religious creed, sexual orientation and family background must be totally excluded from consideration in the judicial process.

To read the transcript in full, please click here.

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