Report: ‘Rule of law’ can boost British identity and global power – but crumbling courts could undermine it

Report: ‘Rule of law’ can boost British identity and global power – but crumbling courts could undermine it

The rule of law should be put at the centre of new efforts to define Britishness and Britain’s place in the world of the 21st century, a think-tank says today.

The Social Market Foundation said that Britain’s trusted legal system and tradition of fair play can help bind together the nations of the UK and reinforce the country’s international clout.

But the cross-party think-tank also warns that crumbling courts and outdated laws risk undermining Britain’s image as a country dedicated to the rule of law. Experts at a roundtable convened by the SMF indicated that a clearer and stronger common understanding of the rule of law might be able to play a role in boosting the UK’s institutional cohesion.

The SMF report entitled “Identity and Influence” comes amid the ongoing heated debate over the future of the Union and Britain’s standing around the world in the turbulent 21st Century.

It argues that a greater focus on legal institutions and the ideas that underpin them would not just help to unify England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but would also enhance the UK’s “soft power”, enhancing the country’s diplomacy and international trade.

To maximise the benefits arising from the rule of law, the report makes several recommendations:

  • School citizenship lessons should be overhauled to put more emphasis on British legal traditions, ensuring that future generations understand the value of an independent and trusted system of laws and courts.
  • A national debate about a clear and common understanding of “the rule of law” should begin, drawing on the work of legal scholars such as AV Dicey, leading to the development of a set of high-level principles that are embodied in the multiple legal systems of the UK and that all nations of the UK can coalesce around.
  • The civil and criminal court systems in England and Wales should be repaired and modernised.

The report draws on new polling about national identity and the findings of an expert roundtable with leading figures in the law and academia. It was sponsored by Mishcon de Reya. The SMF retained editorial independence.

Richard Hyde, SMF senior researcher, said: “The rule of law is vital to Britain and Britishness. The shared understanding that an independent legal system upholding the rules is a foundation stone of our democratic society and our open economy. It’s also a huge international asset, boosting the country’s reputation and soft power.

“The rule of law should play an important role in attempts to bind together the various parts of the United Kingdom, and to help define Britain’s place in the world of the 21st Century.

“However, the parlous state of our legal institutions, especially the crumbling courts, is a serious risk to the rule of law playing that binding role at home and to Britain’s reputation as a country dedicated to the rule of law abroad. Restoring those courts and making the legal system work better for the people in it isn’t just about fixing a struggling public service. It’s about supporting Britishness and Britain’s international standing.”

Katy Colton, managing associate and head of the politics and law group at Mishcon de Reya, said: “The rule of law is central to our sense of Britishness, our sense of selves, national cohesion and how the world views us. Yet, the inherent value to the UK of our legal institutions and our adherence to the rule of law is rarely discussed.

“At a time of economic and political upheaval, potential decline of our legal institutions, and threats to our international standing, this is an important and timely report whose recommendations will be of far-reaching benefit.”

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