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The misrule of law

There are many definitions of the Rule of Law, and I’m no lawyer, which may or may not be a good thing, but if freedom before the Rule of Law is to mean anything, surely it means only answering to well-defined pre-established law, rather than to the arbitrary and discretionary edicts of governments, particularly retrospective legislation where you get punished for something you did before it was made ‘illegal’.

Now I’m no card-carrying member of the Jeffrey Archer fan club, but when a government arbitrarily singles out just one man, even one as notorious as Lord Archer, and then ramrods through a piece of retrospective legislation deliberately designed to harm and humiliate just this one single individual, then if the Rule of Law was already on the critical injuries list, comatose in a life support unit, I think now is time to simply turn the ventilators off. What’s the point of keeping them on? The Rule of Law, in the UK, is dead.

Nurses, quickly please, the screens.

19 comments to The misrule of law

  • Andy,

    You seem to be picking some very trivial issues with which to make very grandiloquent points lately. I don’t see why a libertarian should spend a single instant concerned about this.

  • It’s certainly an issue reeking of pettyness – and hardly worth setting a precident as there is already a mechanism to be rid of troublesome peers – and indeed, he’ll be out anyway, if I read the article correctly.

  • Eamon Brennan


    I think you are correct about the trivial nature of this particular act, but it does seem to highlight very well the sheer childish and petty nature of this administration.


  • Dave J

    Paul, this is effectively a bill of attainder, and a retrospective one at that. Individualized ex post facto punishment is perhaps the quintessence of unchecked state power, which is why I would indeed imagine it to be of some concern to libertarians (and why I am thankful that here in the US it would be unconstitutional on multiple grounds). I’m no fan of Archer’s, either, but that’s completely beside the point.

  • Eamon,

    There is nothing peculiar to the New Labour administration in passing petty and vindictive laws to please their more moronic followers. Section 28, the clause prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities was just the cherry on the sachertorte of the Thathcher regime’s local government bill. It was a nasty bit of small mindedness designed to please some of her more cretinous followers as this and foxhunting is with New Labour.

  • Does anyone else find the very idea of a “peerage” to be as ludicrous as I do? Yes, however, I do agree that this is a sign of the general pettiness of the Labour administration.

  • Verity

    Paul Coulam – that is not the point. All governments throw a lump of red meat for some of their more rabid followers to gnaw on quietly from time to time. I can’t put it any more effectively than Dave J just did above. Individualised ex post facto punishment is a symptom of unchecked state power. Do not displease us or we will create a retroactive law to punish you for something that was not a crime when you committed the deed. Therefore, fear us and obey us.

  • Michael,

    I appreciate the the concept of hereditary peers having a say in the legislative process may seem rather anachronistic. Indeed, it is anachronistic.

    However, in practice these old codgers have consistently proved themselves to be more independent-minded and more principled than the slimey, careerist, social-workers in the Commons. Hence the vendetta.

    Like so much of this ‘modernisation’ cant, their removal is actually the execution of the final stages of the power struggle between the new ruling class and the old ruling class. The victory of the former over the latter is very nearly complete.

  • S. Weasel

    …and the new ruling class is the more obnoxious for believing itself to be a meritocracy – because it went to the right schools, rubs elbows with the right people and holds the right opinions on the right causes.

  • Those who seem concerned by this latest ‘outrage’ from new labour seem to subscribe to the fallacious idea of legal positivism. Since I do not regard any of the legislation passed by states as legitimate I do not get concerned when states start legislating retrospectively. Genuine legal principles are immutable.

    Persectuting people is what states do, there is no great betrayal of any important principle in this instance and retrospective positive legislation is not necessarily always a move away from justice and liberty in any case.

    Who these statists decide to include or kick out of their so called House of Lords is of as much relevance to libertarians as the rules for entry into a Chinese triad gang.

  • Dishman

    It seems to me that Paul is saying “They’re statists, of course they’re up to no good, so why bother even talking about it?”

    While I agree with the first half (they’re up to no good), I take issue with the second half. Rather, them being up to no good makes it all the more important to talk about their misdeeds.

  • Paul,

    I’m reading your opening comment here and wondering why a libertarian shouldn’t concern himself about whatever he pleases. If it displeases you or me, so what?

  • Paul,

    I do not agree with you on this. Our society is not open nor is it likely to be in any forseeable future. Our lives are impinged upon and, to some extent at least, circumscribed and controlled by our political classes.

    That being the case, the nature, methods and motivations of those who do govern us are surely of both interest and relevance to libertarians and everyone else.

  • Andy Duncan

    Paul Coulam writes:

    You seem to be picking some very trivial issues with which to make very grandiloquent points lately. I don’t see why a libertarian should spend a single instant concerned about this.

    Hey, at least I don’t instigate pieces on car parks! 😉

    But if the destruction of the Rule of Law seems trivial to you, that’s up to you. But ever hear the story where they came for that jew commie one night, and nobody said anything, then they came for my neighbour, and nobody said anything, then they came for me, and there was nobody left to say anything?

    These kinds of things always start with the most odious crimes or the most odious people (ie. the removal of double jeopardy from notoriously brutal murder cases, the application of personalised retrogressive law to odious individuals like Archer), but sooner or later this will get to Paul Coulam, and Andy Duncan, and if we don’t sit up and take notice now, when it seems trivial, then when it gets to us then we will deserve what we get.

  • The rule of law in the US has taken a massive beating too. The HIPPA law regarding medical records privacy is the most odious recent slight. It prohibits medical personel from disclosing ANYTHING without a patients permission. Such as letting familly members know you are in the hospital, even if you aren’t conscious to be able to give permission or not. Violating it is a $10,000 fine. So they are going to make criminals out of all the doctors and nurses, and hence have more leverage on them via selective enforcement.

    The trappings of Imperial Bureaucracy in the US are nearly complete.

  • Dave J


    Feel free to dwell in your anarchist utopia all you want. I think the rest of us, here in the real world, probably do actually think that some things states do are worse than others. Dismissing something as trivial and irrelevant is the best way to get burned by it.

  • Toad

    As David J posts, this is a bill of attainder. If it stands, does it sets a precedent or are they still allowed under UK law? Has any legal protest come up on this? I believe that the US constitution forbids them because they knew what had been done with them in 17th and 18th century England.

  • Dave J

    Toad, bills of attainder have always been unusual and as you note, Parliament stopped passing them centuries ago. But under the British constitution, Parliament is sovereign: it can do anything, including revive pernicious and stupid ides like this one. Expect it to be challenged under the Human Rights Act, however.

  • Guessedworker writes:

    “I’m reading your opening comment here and wondering why a libertarian shouldn’t concern himself about whatever he pleases. If it displeases you or me, so what?”

    You are making a category error here Guessedworker, of course people who are libertarians can be concerned by whatever they want, I was not making a personal point. I am arguing that no breach of libertarian principle is involved in passing retrospective positive legislation, indeed it may often be in accord with libertarian principle to do this. The Archer issue is merely one of the rules for membership of an institution that already lacks any libertarian legitimacy in the first place. Libertarian principle requires the abolition of the House of Lords and the stripping of power and titles from all its members by the earliest and most efficaceous means, all the guff about Archer is just distraction and flummery.