Proud or shameful legacy

Justice and the rule of law

Featured in

  • Published 20180205
  • ISBN: 9781925603293
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IT IS TAKEN as a universally acknowledged truth in Western democracies that a strong rule-of-law tradition fosters stability and growth. Countless economic studies back this up; paeans have been written on the indispensible virtue of the rule of law to developing countries. It is included in the prescription of the Washington Consensus for ailing economies, and is a foundational principle of the Commonwealth Charter. In every Commonwealth country, except Rwanda and Mozambique, the legal system in place is a virtual replica of the much-vaunted British model of common law – the fountainhead of the rule of law.

But has the legacy of this model been a force for good across the Commonwealth? British historian Niall Ferguson proclaimed in his 2003 book Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (Penguin) that ‘no organisation in history has done more to…impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world’. This is true, but if surveyed, would a majority of Commonwealth citizens think that the legal system has played a role in improving the quality of their lives?

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at

Share article

About the author

Godfrey Smith

Godfrey Smith served as Belize’s Attorney-General, foreign minister and tourism minister between 1999 and 2008. He is the author of George Price: A Life...

More from this edition

Empire of delusion

EssayANYONE INTERESTED IN power must visit Persepolis. Its ruins stand defiantly in a parched valley in southern Iran, the ultimate statement of humans’ capacity...

When Chifley met Nehru

EssayIN A LONDON hotel, two prime ministers sit down to breakfast. One is tall, lean, white-haired and speaks in a raspy, unmistakably working-class Australian...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.