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British riots: Cameron clashes with basic law

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The rule that guilt is individual is so deeply embedded in the concept of law that it does not appear in the United States Constitution; nor in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, nor in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nor in the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a principle so axiomatic that every nation which possesses a system of law simply assumes it.

When the mafia executes an entire family, including wives, brothers, sisters and their children because someone in that family has betrayed them, we are appalled because it not only punishes the person who violated its code, but goes well beyond that in practicing the far more ancient, pre-law custom of blood guilt.

During the era of the Soviet Union the public prosecutor in a novel of that period argues that “hundreds of innocents should be condemned rather than allow one enemy to go free.” That kind of Soviet law argument rejected all that is encompassed by the term “the rule of law.” So too does a provision in the German Penal Code of the 1930s that gave judges the power to punish acts not prohibited by law. The judge needed only to find that the act offended “the sound sense of the people.”

If we ask, then, what is meant by the rule of law, the eight criteria suggested by the late Harvard professor and legal philosopher Lon Fuller provide a useful guide: (1) there must be rules; (2) the rules must be published; (3) they must be prospective, (4) intelligible, (5) free from contradiction, (6) possible to comply with, (7) not constantly changing, and (8) the declared rule and official action must correspond. David Cameron’s call to evict entire families for the acts of a single family member violates at least five of the eight criteria. It is not a ringing endorsement of the rule of law.

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