Why the rule of law rules

Shailesh Vara

The Law Ministers Meeting, held in Botswana in May, asked the Commonwealth Secretariat to assess implementation of the Latimer House Principles in member countries as a means of upholding the rule of law




We are all stronger when we are united and Commonwealth members are privileged to be part of a body of nations able to debate, advise and share best practice on the world stage.

I was delighted to take part in the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Botswana in May, where a packed and varied agenda set the tone to explore myriad legal issues.

Topics of international importance included Commonwealth activity in the fields of human rights, judicial development, international legal co-operation, enforcement of judgments, prevention of violence against women, anti-corruption, counter-terrorism and cybercrime.

Inevitably, such a diverse programme ignited differing and strongly-held views, and, as in other international fora recently, language about violence against women was high on the agenda – and hotly debated.

We can learn much from one another’s unique experiences and it is important to hear a wide range of viewpoints. However, we must also remain bound by the fundamental principles of equality and humanity within a society shaped by the rule of law. Certain principles should remain inviolable within the Commonwealth partnership – and all nations must adopt and adhere to them. Of course it is important that regional cultures and traditions are recognised and respected, but there are international standards to comply with and live up to, and, as stated in the Commonwealth charter, democracy and human rights must prevail.

I believe the treatment of women is particularly important. We cannot and must not tolerate second-rate treatment of women in any society.

Some Commonwealth countries have experienced recent challenges in respect of the rule of law and judicial independence, so this was much discussed. I believe judicial independence has to remain a critical part of the rule of law, and this, in turn, is a key enabler for social and economic development. Where challenges exist, they should be discussed openly. Sadly, this is often not the case and not all countries are prepared to open themselves up to scrutiny.

It is, therefore, significant that the meeting agreed that the Commonwealth Secretariat be tasked with taking forward work to assess implementation of the Latimer House Principles across the Commonwealth. The Latimer House Principles provide a roadmap for democracy and good governance with their emphasis on the separation of powers between the three branches of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary – as guarantors of the rule of law, the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights, and entrenchment of good governance.

Many of the values of freedom and justice that underpin the rule of law have a long and proud tradition in the UK, dating right back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. The 800th anniversary of that landmark event takes place next year with, among other tributes, the Global Law Summit in London. I am very pleased to be able to share perhaps one of our greatest exports with Commonwealth partners and other delegates who will visit the UK in February. International leaders in law, government and business will join in this world-class celebration of the rule of law, and discuss its importance to business and development. It will be a great opportunity to celebrate the UK as a global leader in legal expertise.

World-class leadership is something we should all strive towards and the Commonwealth, in particular, has evolved greatly throughout the generations – it is now a voluntary partnership in which dominance by any one country is no longer tolerated. I know the UK delegation – which included the Lord Advocate from Scotland and the Attorneys-General of Jersey and Guernsey – would agree that the tone of the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting overall was encouraging, and I am confident the Commonwealth will continue to work together towards shared aspirations and legal values.

The experience of the Botswana conference has convinced me that the Commonwealth can continue to evolve so that what remains is a modern and effective organisation ready to tackle the challenges of the future. The Commonwealth brings together almost every race, religion and region on earth – creating a valuable forum with enormous potential to enhance the rule of law, and values of tolerance and equality globally.

About the author:

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara represented the UK at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Botswana


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