On the 25th anniversary of the Rome Statute, the Treasurer offers his thoughts on the importance of the rule of law in our rapidly changing modern world.
The 17 July 2023 is the 25th anniversary of the Rome Statute, establishing the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The Rome Statute came into effect on 1 July 2002, now over 21 years ago. So, on any basis, the ICC has come of age.
The World Day for International Justice has been celebrated every year on 17 July, since the state parties to the Rome Statute met for their Review Conference in Kampala in June 2010. It is worth using the World Day for International Justice to reflect more generally on the importance of the rule of law in our modern troubled times.
Lawyers and judges in countries across the world are often so involved in their own diet of cases that they are oblivious to the bigger picture. But the wider legal landscape is of fundamental importance to the peace and prosperity of people everywhere. Lawyers defend citizens of all countries when they are prosecuted, and an independent judiciary is the most dependable safeguard against both unlawful imprisonment and the abuse of the powers of the other branches of the state – the executive and the legislature.
I have thought for many years that lawyers, independent judiciaries and justice systems have been undervalued, even taken for granted, around the world. An independent judiciary as the third arm of state is critical in any society if the rights and freedoms of individuals are to be properly protected.
Those taking their judiciaries for granted are not, as many might think, just the first and second limbs of governments, they are also the legal professions themselves and the citizens and businesses whose rights are protected by a dependable legal system.
It is incumbent upon all members of the legal community to do their bit to explain and exemplify the importance of an independent legal profession and an independent judiciary. An independent legal profession will be prepared to act without fear or favour for anyone prosecuted by or in litigation or conflict with government. An independent judiciary will decide cases as justly when they are between the government and an individual citizen or business as they do as between citizens. That is the essence of the rule of law. Justice depends on prosecutions being conducted fairly on the basis of the evidence alone, and upon all litigation, whatever the parties, being determined by a state-funded independent judiciary on the basis of the established law and the facts alone.
These messages may seem simple and obvious to those who took on board the lessons of constitutional law 1.01. Unfortunately, there are many who never had the opportunity for such study. The legal sector does itself a disservice if it does not explain and advocate for the fundamental principles of the rule of law to anyone who will listen. It is those principles that underpin the World Day for International Justice. Let us all celebrate it together.
Sir Geoffrey Vos is Master of the Rolls and Treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn