Britain and Europe
Liberty and Regulation

There are things in our lives, traditions, principles, ideals, which are so basic and fundamental we take them for granted and rarely give them a passing thought. Take for example the Presumption of Innocence. It is one of the foundation stones of justice throughout the world. Though not always practiced, it is at least universally recognized.

There are other principles and ideals, also basic and fundamental, which we unquestioningly accept, but so deeply ingrained are they in the very fabric of our lives, we don't even realize they exist. We simply take them for granted like breathing. An example is the Presumption of Liberty.

The Presumption of Liberty is the presumption that we are all basically free to do whatever we like, to improve our lifestyle, our wellbeing, our employment and opportunities for advancement, and that laws and regulations limiting that freedom require justification.

The justification for law and regulation in the Anglo culture and tradition is basically that whatever we do, we should not in the process harm or endanger others, individuals or the collectivity.

The idea is well summarized by Lord Denning, an outstanding figure in British justice, in his book 'The Family Story': "Each man should be free to develop his own personality to the full; the only restrictions upon this freedom should be those which are necessary to enable everyone else to do the same." Applied in government, the principle is clear and simple. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address to Congress as President in 1801: "the purpose of government is to prevent men from injuring one another".

Reading this in Britain, most Commonwealth countries or the USA, one might say... Well yes. It's nice to be reminded from time to time. But it's all quite obvious.

It may be quite obvious to citizens of Britain, the Commonwealth or USA, but it is by no means obvious to citizens of Europe. Indeed quite the contrary. Throughout continental Europe the prevailing principle is a Presumption of Regulation. There are those actions which are forbidden and those which are obligatory. Ideally there should be nothing in between, no room for doubt or uncertainty. Regulation should be universal, and minutely detailed.

Britons have, in a clear majority, consistently disliked the country's membership of the European Union. When asked for reasons, replies frequently mention the torrent of petty rules and regulations which emanate continuously from Brussels. More importantly, Britons feel instinctively that the very basis of Law is fundamentally different, resulting in a deep conflict of culture between Britain and the continental EU.

Whatever Britain's future in the EU, love it, leave it, or stay and make the best of it, we should at least be clear as to the nature of this very fundamental difference in the basic concept of law.

The Front Page