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14 April 2011

The return of the rule of law?

Why recent arrests and prosecutions should be welcomed.

By David Allen Green

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, there was a steady buzz of illegal activity. While Tony Blair moralised, and Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson spun, it appears that everyone was at it: parliamentarians making fraudulent expenses claims and the popular press hacking mobile telephones on an industrial scale.

For many powerful people in the United Kingdom, the criminal law became something that only applied to other people. As supposedly progressive politicians and tabloid newspapers clamoured for “crackdowns on crime”, it was they who were engaged in elaborate criminal enterprises. As speeches and editorials insulted human rights and civil liberties lawyers, it was the speech-makers and tabloid editors who availed themselves of expensive legal advice on how to evade accountability for their unlawful activity.

The one hopeful sign of the current arrests and prosecutions is that this unlawful activity was not sustainable in the long run. It seems that the rule of law has again been asserted. Members of Parliament and journalists are not above the criminal law. The arrests and prosecutions are not signs of a political and media system malfunctioning; they are instead signs of a healthy polity.

 

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David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and a practising media lawyer.