The rule of law in the international legal order is damaged in those situations where there is a 'willingness of some states in some circumstances to rewrite the rules to meet the perceived exigencies of the political situation' said the Rt Hon Lord Bingham of Cornhill KG, recently retired Senior Law Lord, last night at the Annual Grotius Lecture on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.
He used as an example the 'serious violation of international law' by the United States, the United Kingdom and others in invading Iraq in 2003, which, he said, despite the genuine beliefs of many of those involved that it was lawful, nevertheless the effect was to 'undermine the foundation on which the post-1945 consensus had been constructed'. Lord Bingham commented that 'however attractive it might be for a single state to be free of all the legal constraints that bind all other states, they are unlikely to tolerate such a situation for very long and in the meantime the solo state would lose the benefits and protections that international agreement can confer. The rule of the jungle is no more tolerable in a big jungle'.
Lord Bingham also highlighted the 'unilateral decisions of the US Government that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the detention conditions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or to trial of Al-Qa'ida or Taliban prisoners by military commissions' as being contrary to the rule of law and stated that 'the moment that a State treats the rules of international law as binding on others but not on itself, the compact on which the law rests is broken'. He called for greater use of the International Court of Justice in matters connected to the UN Charter and noted the debate on the legality of the Iraq war has 'enhanced the importance of international law in the public mind'.
Lord Bingham noted the breadth of areas of international law that have impacts within each national system, especially the number of cases that come before the highest courts, such as the House of Lords, including cases such as those involving the UK anti-terrorism legislation. He also made clear that international law is no longer a specialist, niche field, as the main practice areas in which issues of international law now arise include aviation law, commercial and intellectual property law, criminal law, employment and industrial relations law, environmental law, European Union law, family and child law, human rights law, immigration and asylum law, immunities and privileges, international organisations, jurisdiction, law of the sea, treaties and warfare and weapons law. So he concluded that 'if the daunting challenges now facing the world are to be overcome, it must be through the medium of rules, internationally agreed, internationally implemented and, if necessary, internationally enforced'.
Lord Bingham was speaking at the Grotius Lecture of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law held on 17 November in the Great Hall at Lincoln's Inn. The Institute is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and the Grotius Lecture has been an annual event to showcase of the finest legal minds of our times. It is highly appropriate that the Institute's 50th Anniversary should be celebrated with a lecture on the Rule of Law in the International Order by one of the Institute's Chairman, the Rt Hon Lord Bingham of Cornhill KG. Lord Bingham has had a long and distinguished career, having been Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Senior Law Lord. Professor Sir David Edward KCMG QC, Professor Emeritus of the University of Edinburgh and former judge of the European Court of Justice, chaired the event.
The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, spoke after the Dinner at this event. He disagreed with Lord Bingham's conclusions about the Iraq war. However, he affirmed strongly the independence of the judiciary and the need to uphold the rule of law across the world. In this he commented on the importance of the work of the Institute in this regard.
Further details about this event are available on our website: /events/view/-/id/278/
Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law
The British Institute of International and Comparative Law is an independent research body, unaffiliated to any university, which is committed to the understanding, development and practical application of international and comparative law. As part of our celebrations to mark the 50th Anniversary of the British Institute for International and Comparative law, the Institute is honouring the work of Lord Bingham by launching a campaign to establish a centre in his name: the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law will:
- Recommend best practices to ensure that human rights and international legal obligations are taken into account in the law and practice worldwide;
- Review and compare the operation of regional and international agreements in areas such as trade, investment and finance in terms of accessibility of the law, and as well as the most effective means for resolving disputes by the application of the law and not by power;
- Through high quality research and training, seek to ensure the creation and capacity-building of institutions in the United Kingdom and around the world, especially those that administer the law, to operate according to the rule of law;
- Influence policy and law reform;
Be of practical relevance for judges, practitioners, governments and businesses within the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
With Lord Bingham's leadership and expertise, the Institute's London location and its 50 years' experience in high quality academic research, the British Institute for International and Comparative law is well suited to establish the first centre of its kind to focus on this important topic. The Institute is aiming to raise sufficient funds over the course of 2009 to make our vision for the Centre a reality. The Campaign Steering Committee is chaired by Sir Christopher Bellamy, QC (Linklaters) and its Deputy Chairman is Paul Lomas (Freshfields).
For more information on the centre, its proposed activities and how you can become involved, please contact: Roz Bristowe at the Institute's Development Office on 020 7664 4871 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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