Friday, 9 April 2010

Rule of law: more from Conference

On one day of the recent Conference of my trade union in Manchester, I had an interesting coffee time conversation with a fellow delegate. He was originally from Ghana, and was very impressed by the way in which the education spokesmen from the three main political parties were coming to speak at Conference. That they came to speak to conferences like ours, that there was an open discussion and debate about the matters of policy involved, that the politicians themselves were challenged about what they said - this was all a complete novelty compared to the experience of political life in Ghana. There it is dangerous to criticise those in political power, and decisions at both national and local levels are made in ways that can only be described as corrupt and self-seeking (according to my co-locutor).

One suggestion in our conversation really struck me, though. That was my colleague's suggestion that he would welcome a return to some form of colonial power in his home country as a way to protect the rights and interests of the ordinary people of the country against those of the ruling elite. I do not know enough about the colonial history of Ghana to really comment, but I suspect that it will not have provided an equal rule of law for all the people of the country and will have had its element of exploitation. So what I said to my colleague was that I thought his suggestion was, more than anything else, a call for the establishing of a proper rule of law in his home country, and not a call for the restoration of an old-style colonialism.

And developing this line of thinking, I suggested that within the framework of the United Nations, there is a sense of the responsibility of the international community of nations towards individual nations like Ghana. A case could be made for an intervention of the United Nations to establish a rule of law in a country like Ghana.

Since conference, I have reflected on the contents of our conversation in a different context. In the (rather inconclusive) public discussion about what constitutes "British-ness" or "British values" we happily talk about a "sense of fair play", "democracy" and the like. But perhaps more fundamental than these is the acceptance of the rule of law. As my conversation at Conference reveals, this is not something that is always true of the countries from which many of those coming to Britain for the first time arrive.

At an international level, the rule of law is represented by foundational documents of the United Nations. The two that come to mind as I write are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Refugees. Both of these create obligations for member nations of the UN, and are reflected in legislation at subsidiary levels. Behind them sits the idea of universal human rights - that there are certain entitlements that apply for all people, are not conferred by and cannot be removed by legislation, which arise simply from being a human person and which do not change over time. In complying with international legislation such as this, the rule of law in an individual nation avoids an arbitrariness that does itself undermine the rule of law.

Just to look at two provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though, indicates a problem. How can a universal right to life [Article 3] be squared with legalised abortion? How can the duty of states towards the family [Article 16(3)] (and let's be realistic - when the Declaration was prepared in the late 1940's this meant married people with children, and not the mulitple forms that political correctness currently expects us to include within the definition of family) be squared with legalised divorce/re-marriage and the giving of equal status to same-sex couples?

How healthy is the rule of law in Britain today? Do the flagship components of "progressive" law making actually undermine the rule of law?

Catholic and Loving It has posted a quotation from G K Chesterton on a not disimilar (good word, that) theme.

3 comments:

Francis said...

Joe, you write:

which arise simply from being a human person and which do not change over time

and

Just to look at two provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though, indicates a problem. How can a universal right to life [Article 3] be squared with legalised abortion?

I imagine they reconcile the two by arguing that you don't become a person at conception.

Joe said...

... but even then doesn't it still constitute a denial of a right to life?

Francis said...

Perhaps they would argue that you can't deny a person's right to life until they become a person. As for when we become a person...I leave it to them to explain that one.

Personally, I don't think 'person' should come into it. We become HUMAN at conception...after that it's just a matter of growing.