This morning the Lord Chancellor trumpeted Magna Carta as one of Britain’s greatest exports. In one word the failure of the Global Law Summit (GLS) authentically to celebrate the legacy of that seminal document was encapsulated. English law and its attractiveness as a commercial commodity is what this Summit is all about not the genesis of the Rule of Law and fundamental principles of fairness before the courts.
If England processed foreign defendants through its criminal justice system at a price you may be sure that the GLS would be thronged with criminal lawyers. But of course any and every country’s conception of sovereignty entails retaining responsibility for administering its own criminal justice system. And so criminal lawyers and other publically funded practitioners are not welcome at this jamboree because we are a cost, a drain; not an asset susceptible to pricing and selling to the highest foreign bidder.
UK PLC does not profit from trying French thieves, Spanish swindlers, Belgian burglars or Russian robbers. Because we can’t flog our criminal justice system the Government has no interest in celebrating it. What the Government is extremely interested in is welcoming the moneyed of the world to litigate in London at vast expense no matter how unconnected their disputes are to this jurisdiction.
You may think though that when you sell something that it is extremely important to know exactly what you are selling. Of course oligarchs are intimately interested in the incorruptibility of the judiciary sitting in the Rolls Building. But it is short sighted in the extreme to pretend that the integrity of the Bench sitting at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court and the quality of the justice they dispense conversely is of no interest. England is still, mercifully, a country in which people do not randomly disappear from their streets or their homes. Defendants are not detained without trial and even now those that require representation are entitled to it. None of those things are enshrined by Magna Carta but they are an important part of the reason why the money of the world has flooded into London in the last decade.
It would be an immensely foolish minister or civil servant that assumed that the Commercial Court matters and the Crown Court does not when foreign litigants engage in forum shopping. It is lamentable to characterise the dissemination of the principles of Magna Carta around the world as an export as though a price can be placed on it like a crate of bananas or a container full of cars. Especially because exported commodities and goods are usually fated for consumption and using up. The day that the Rule of Law is used up in England is the day that we shall have to export ourselves.