From Magna Carta to magna market

The upcoming Global Law Summit does seem to have plenty to do with the rule of law, but perhaps not in the way its corporate organisers think.

Rhona Friedman
19 February 2015

One definition of a summit is a meeting of high-level leaders, usually called upon to shape a programme of action. What programme could emerge from the Global Law Summit? It can’t be a programme to improve access to justice and freedom of speech for ordinary people in the countries sending representatives to the event because otherwise panel sessions would have been addressed by a plethora of legal aid experts and civil rights lawyers from the UK and abroad. We may also have seen an entire session devoted to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which if it becomes treaty law will create secret courts, hearing cases in which transnational corporations will sue elected governments, reaching secret judgment completely outside the reach of the rule of law. 

So no programme of action on rule of law issues then but instead a “valuable opportunity to meet and do business” according to the Summit’s co-chair. Do business leaders really need the rule of law to flog their products? I’m not sure they do otherwise the Prosecutor General of Kazakhstan wouldn’t have been invited. You can read about that country’s attitude to the rule of law here.

The first morning of the Summit starts with a key note address by the current Lord Chancellor. The two year report card on his attitude to access to justice and state accountability, both guarantors of the rule of law, has been well and truly marked by others. Lord Green was, until the recent excitement, due to have appeared alongside him on the platform. As we all know now he was boss of HSBC when at the Swiss division the rule of hiding assets from the tax authorities and from criminal justice apparently took precedence over the rule of law.

After the key note speeches comes panel session one Business and the Rule of Law. The Chair of BAe Systems has been chosen to sit on this panel which may be sensible scheduling by the organisers because he can be asked questions about how in 2010 the rule of law in the UK and US cost his business nearly £300m in fines for criminal behaviour. BAe Systems set a UK record for a corporate criminal fine which may or may not be what the organisers had in mind when they themed the event around “Law at the heart of 21st Century Business.”    

It is clear that Magna Carta and the rule of law have been plastered on to this jamboree as mere branding stickers for the event. Why don’t they just drop the pretence and be unashamedly direct in their marketing and call it what it is: “The London Law Marketplace”? Not the “Davos of law” but speed dating with nibbles for corporate lawyers queuing up to speak to a man (they will mostly be men) who knows a man who is close to the Big Man who wants to sell off a state asset or enter into a contract for telecoms or buy riot control equipment to quell those pesky campaigners at home who want rule by law founded upon the rule of law. 

Justice Alliance is heartened that so many people – lawyers and non lawyers - have seen through the artifice and have spoken out against the hypocrisy of the Ministry of Justice co-hosting this event at a time when the government has embarked upon an unprecedented attack on access to justice and civil liberties.

From 21st February onwards we will be holding King John Grayling to account not with the military threat of the barons but with people speaking truth to power, accompanied by 13th Century tunes, some capering fools and most importantly Magna Carta. Join us either on our Relay for Rights on the 21st to the morning of 23rd February or at Not the Global Law Summit from 1pm at Old Palace Yard, Westminster.    

Please see our website for more details.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData