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A Matter of Justice: The Legal System in Ferment 
by Michael Zander.
Tauris, 323 pp., £16.50, February 1988, 1 85043 040 3
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The Coercive State: The Decline of Democracy in Britain 
by Paddy Hillyard and Janie Percy-Smith.
Fontana, 352 pp., £5.95, February 1988, 0 00 637083 7
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... When the judges assembled to compose a Loyal Address to Queen Victoria on the opening of the Law Courts, the draft before them began: ‘We your judges, conscious as we are of our manifold defects ...’ The Master of the Rolls exploded: ‘I am not conscious of having manifold defects.’ Lord Justice Bowen, who was a scholar with a sense of humour, suggested, to mollify him, that the Address might begin: ‘We your judges, conscious as we are of each other’s manifold defects ...

Confidence and Supply

Stephen Sedley: Confidence and Supply, 14 December 2017

... Suppose​ Emmanuel Macron’s new party had found itself short of a majority in the National Assembly, and Macron had done a deal with the Corsican nationalists that in return for their votes he would steer well over a billion euros of subsidy to the Corsican economy. The French judge to whom I put this started laughing: ‘No – impossible – unconstitutional – unthinkable ...

Professional Misconduct

Stephen Sedley, 17 December 2015

... Not​ for the first time, Mr Justice Peter Smith, a judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court, got his personal life and his judicial work entangled. This time it concerned his luggage, which had gone missing on a BA flight from Florence. While the luggage was still missing, BA appeared in his court as a litigant and the judge demanded to know what had happened to it; he stood down only after an unseemly wrangle with BA’s counsel ...

Defining Anti-Semitism

Stephen Sedley, 4 May 2017

... Shorn​ of philosophical and political refinements, anti-Semitism is hostility towards Jews as Jews. Where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech it is generally illegal, lying beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and of action. By contrast, criticism (and equally defence) of Israel or of Zionism is not only generally lawful: it is affirmatively protected by law ...

In Court

Stephen Sedley: The Prorogation Debacle, 10 October 2019

... For at least​ four centuries the courts have contested the claims of monarchs to untrammelled authority. ‘The king,’ Chief Justice Coke said in 1611, ‘hath no prerogative but what the law of the land allows him.’ Although the historic settlement of 1688-89, which gave us today’s constitutional monarchy, left in existence a wide swathe of prerogative powers, these have become subject to two governing principles ...

The Right to Die

Stephen Sedley, 27 August 2015

... When suicide​ was decriminalised in 1961, assisting suicide continued to be a crime. This was in part an acceptance of the theological view of suicide as murder, but it was also a recognition of the difficulty in many cases, with the main actor by definition unable to testify, of distinguishing assisted dying from culpable homicide. The simple binary system that resulted, however, failed to take account of cases in which the deceased’s wish to die was explicit, considered and rational, and the need for help in accomplishing it demonstrable ...

The Goodwin and Giggs Show

Stephen Sedley: Super-Injunctions, 16 June 2011

... For more than three hundred years the UK’s constitution has functioned remarkably well on the basis of the historic compromise reached in the course of the 17th century. The 1689 Bill of Rights forbade the impeachment or questioning of parliamentary debates and proceedings ‘in any court or place out of Parlyament’. Parliament in return has made it a rule, enforced until now by the speakers of both Houses, that it will not interfere with the decisions of the courts, whether by anticipating their judgments or by attacking them ...

Keeping mum

Stephen Sedley, 2 March 1989

The Spycatcher Trial 
by Malcolm Turnbull.
Heinemann, 228 pp., £12.95, October 1988, 0 434 79156 3
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Reform of the Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911: Government White Paper 
HMSO, 16 pp., £2.60, June 1988, 0 10 104082 2Show More
Official Secrets Bill 
HMSO, 14 pp., £3, December 1988, 0 10 300989 2Show More
Security Service Bill 
HMSO, 8 pp., £2.60, November 1988, 9780103007892Show More
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... There is among the many departments of our well-ordered state a department which would be known if we were Chinese as “The Board of Things to be Known and Not to be Known”.’ Hilaire Belloc, writing in 1925 a satire on England as he imagined it would be in 1953, accurately linked the mandarin élitism of the Civil Service with its determination to control the supply of public information ...


Stephen Sedley: On the Guildford Four, 9 November 1989

... At almost exactly the same time as the Police were fitting up the Guildford Four, Richard Nixon was discovering that a shredder was a far more important piece of equipment than a photocopier. Late-night shredding parties have since become a feature both of US Administrations and of certain industrial enterprises as the step of judicial investigation approaches ...

Old Tunes

Stephen Sedley, 16 July 2020

... The poet​ and songwriter Sydney Carter – remember ‘Lord of the Dance’? – wasn’t the only observer to notice that the 1950s British folk song revival was being accompanied, and occasionally drowned out, by the clang of cash registers. His song ‘Man with the Microphone’ began:As I roved out one morningI was singing a country songI met a man with a microphoneAnd oh he did me wrong ...

How to Comply with Strasbourg

Stephen Sedley: Strasbourg v. UK, 24 January 2013

... The states composing the Council of Europe, now 47 of them, have their own supreme court, the European Court of Human Rights, which – not unlike its US counterpart – has come under increasing fire for interfering unduly in member states’ affairs and trying to make one size of human rights compliance fit all. At a theoretical level there seems something wrong with this critique: one size should fit all, for the meaning and effect of fundamental rights cannot logically vary from one country to another ...

Short Cuts

Stephen Sedley: The case for a national DNA register, 20 January 2005

... In principle, DNA analysis has made it possible to establish to a very high degree of probability the human source of even a minute quantity of biological matter – most notably blood, semen or saliva. The science is complex, and the degree of certainty not absolute, especially when it is necessary to differentiate between twins or siblings. But it has begun to revolutionise the process not only of detection by police but of proof in court ...

‘Fluent Gaul has taught the British advocates’

Stephen Sedley: Dispute Resolution, 12 February 2009

Early English Arbitration 
by Derek Roebuck.
Holo, 312 pp., £40, April 2008, 978 0 9544056 1 8
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... When the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested in a lecture last February that there was room within national legal systems for some degree of religious law for members of particular faiths, the country shook with indignation – not at what the prelate had actually said, but at the menacing story the broadcast and print media extracted from it. The Sun’s uniquely helpful contribution was a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign, corroborating Martin Amis’s suggestion in Yellow Dog about the way the red-tops view their readers ...

Short Cuts

Stephen Sedley: Labour and Anti-Semitism, 10 May 2018

... When​ I was about eight my schoolfriend Harvey invited me to join his Anti-Jew Gang. I was born just after the outbreak of war, so this must have been 1947 or 1948. Harvey hadn’t the slightest idea what a Jew was, but since I was his friend it was evident I couldn’t be one. What he had picked up, presumably at home, was the vernacular anti-Semitism which had first excused and then validated everything from the Nuremberg Laws to the gas chambers and might readily have made collaborators of families like Harvey’s if Hitler had crossed the Channel ...

Second Time Around

Stephen Sedley: In the Court of Appeal, 6 September 2007

The Court of Appeal 
by Gavin Drewry, Louis Blom-Cooper and Charles Blake.
Hart, 196 pp., £30, April 2007, 978 1 84113 387 4
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... chief justice of Northern Ireland, put down his pen and said in the kindliest of voices: ‘Mr Sedley, it seems to me you’re trying to make a pig out of a pound of ...

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