Judges Against the Rule of Law
By rewarding favored political causes, judges are removing the blindfold from lady justice and putting weights in her balance.
It is seldom, said Hume, that we lose our liberty all at once: rather, it is nibbled away as a mouse nibbles cheese. Perhaps the same might be said of the rule of law, especially in countries such as Britain where it has been long established and people take it for granted, as if it were a natural rather than an achieved phenomenon.
One of the enemies of the rule of law is sentimentality. Both a jury and now a judge have found that if protesters break the law for what the jury or the judge considers a supposedly good cause, they can be rightfully acquitted in the name of freedom of protest.
In 2020, young protesters in Bristol toppled a fine century-and-a-quarter-old statue of Edward Colston, a late seventeenth and early eighteenth merchant of the city, and threw it into the city’s harbour. Colston endowed institutions in the city, and at least some of his money came from the slave trade. The action of the protesters was clearly criminal, but they were acquitted by a jury because their action was supposedly idealistic. Vandalism in the name of ideals has always been a popular pastime, of course, and the aesthetic contribution of the statue to the city was not mentioned in the subsequent debate on the matter.
Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal and a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
This piece originally appeared in Law & Liberty