chapter  3
24 Pages

PRINCIPLES FROM HISTORY

Practising lawyers and judges carry out their work in a brutally anti-historical manner. Although they rely upon precedents, often from earlier centuries, precious little importance is attached to the historical context in which case law was decided and legislation enacted. Consider Lord Donaldson MR’s judgment in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex p Muboyayi (1991), p 78, where he stated, in a case about a Zairian applying for political asylum in the UK, that the ‘duty of the courts is to uphold [the] classic statement of the rule of law’ in Magna Carta 1215:

The notions of ‘liberty’ and who was a ‘free man’ were profoundly different in the 13th century than they are today (it did not include the majority of adult men, nor any women); yet principles assumed by modern lawyers to be contained in Magna Carta were applied to circumstances of the 1990s.