Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Rule of Law and Foriegn Policy- The British Perspective


Event: Justice Assistance Network launch

Location: Department for International Development, London

Speech Date: 16/05/07

Speaker: Geoff Hoon


I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on the rule of law and foreign policy. Before I became a politician, I practised as a barrister and lectured in law at both Leeds University and the University of Louisville in Kentucky. In practically all of my Ministerial appointments, at the then Lord Chancellors Department, during my two appointments as Minister for Europe, and as Secretary of State for Defence, I witnessed firsthand the importance of our international work to promote the rule of law.

You have heard from my colleagues about the range of work that it being done, from Europe to Asia, to promote the rule of law. Today, I want to join my colleagues in urging you, some of the most prominent and influential of the legal profession in the UK, to consider how you can help us establish the rule of law internationally.

I know that some legal academics have been sceptical about politicians using the phrase "the rule of law". I know some have suggested we use this phrase as verbal shorthand for democracy or good governance, or, to borrow a phrase from Lord Bingham, as "jurisprudential motherhood and apple pie".

I do not entirely accept this view. Over my career, as a lawyer, but more importantly, as a politician, I have seen that the promotion of the rule of law is central to achieving almost all of our foreign policy objectives. I see it as essential to the establishment of a stable and secure environment, where the law protects the rights, assets and investments of all members of society equally and impartially, without regard for ethnicity, gender or political allegiance.

As an end in itself and as a means to other equally important ends, the rule of law has become an increasingly central part of foreign policy. Today I will set out three ways in which I believe the rule of law impacts on international relations.

First, to take the area which those sceptical legal academics find the most difficult, the Rule of Law as a political standard, a means to assess good governance or economic transition of a particular country.

In 2005, at the World Summit, the Member States of the United Nations reaffirmed their commitment to an international order based on the Rule of Law and international law. Kofi Annan, in a report to the Security Council last December stated that "the promotion and protection of the Universal values of the Rule of Law, human rights and democracy are ends in themselves".

This must be right. Because, I firmly believe that, if all the citizens of the world had confidence in their local justice systems, we would live in a far more secure as well as a more prosperous and a more just world.

So, part of the work of Ministers and diplomats in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is that of political advocacy. To take an example from my own area of responsibility, the European Union, the Copenhagen Criteria, which set out the accession standards, insist on a candidate state guaranteeing the rule of law.

And the European Union takes this criterion seriously - one example is their insistence that the countries of the Western Balkans fully co-operate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Practically, this means that governments in the Balkans must deliver those indicted for war crimes. Earlier this year, the European Council recalled its commitment to take forward pre-accession talks with the new Serbian government, if, in turn, this government takes concrete and effective action for full co-operation with the Tribunal.

Only once in EU history has the Council delayed the opening of accession talks, in the case of Croatia, and because of its failure to co-operate with the Hague Tribunal.

This - a reminder that no-one, even in times of national emergency, is exempt from justice - is a fundamental principle of the rule of law.

There is a clear role for legal professionals to assist in this work. We have seconded many experts to advise Central and Eastern European governments on issues such as access to justice, anti corruption measures and judicial training. As a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department in the early 1990s, I worked with the Polish Government on judicial reform whilst they were preparing for EU membership. And I firmly believe that this work has been crucial in spreading the rule of law across Europe. We will need your help to take this forward in Turkey, Croatia, the rest of the Western Balkans as well as in countries such as Ukraine who have set out their EU integration aspirations.

This leads to the second area where the rule of law is a key pillar of foreign policy: as a tool for economic and social development.

Here we see the rule of law as a necessary pre-requisite to the creation of opportunities to improve the lives of people across the globe.

Increasingly, both in the FCO, and across the international community, we see a link between the rule of law and the prevention and resolution of armed conflict. All new peacekeeping mandates drawn up by the UN include work to establish the Rule of Law.

To take an example in Iraq, we have recruited young legal professionals from the UK bar to act as Justice Advisers in Basra. They work closely with the local judicial authorities to strengthen the local judiciary and bar association - at present the focus is to develop training programmes which are closely tailored to the specific needs of the local community.

I believe that these young lawyers will gain a unique personal experience as well as professional skills that will strengthen their future careers as solicitors or at the bar. And, of course, their work is of immeasurable importance to us. As a lawyer, I am well aware that lawyers work best when talking to fellow legal professionals. This is not a job for diplomats.

If personal circumstances allow, a lawyer can make a real difference in Iraq. And there are other projects in places as diverse as Mexico, Bangladesh, Egypt and Armenia. All offer rewarding opportunities for UK lawyers. Because helping to establish the rule of law allows some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the world to have a longer, happier and more prosperous life.

The independence of the judiciary is essential to encourage investment from business, and thus growth, job creation and prosperity. This is what we were trying to achieve in Poland, back in the 1990s. The courts must treat foreign and domestic companies with parity. Otherwise investment will dry up.

I am still approached by British companies who fear for their investments overseas, for example Russia, where alleged corruption in the judicial system, cronyism and lack of transparency could jeopardise large scale investments. Globalisation, like it or not, is here to stay, and this means that the failure of the rule of law in foreign countries, can impact on the success of British companies.

To conclude, I would like to touch on the third aspect of the rule of law in international relations: the setting of standards, the drawing up of international law and the management of International Tribunals.

This work, carried out in a number of international organisations, strengthens the ties that bind us into a single international community through adherence to a set of international rules.

As the world shrinks, international law increases in importance. Until recently, the absence of international policing or courts meant that international law was seen as politically binding but not amenable to prosecution. The International Criminal Court, building on the work of the earlier international criminal tribunals, has fundamentally changed this view.

And there is an ever increasing need for legal professionals to help develop and draft new standards and for judges and prosecutors to work and advise on the tribunals themselves.

My aim today has been to demonstrate the importance of rule of law in international relations and to encourage you to engage with our work.

I hope all of you will think seriously about whether there is scope for you, or your staff, to work with us. I hope you will decide that there is.


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