Rule of Law conference - London, 2 March 2012

Under the UK Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission, in co-operation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom and with the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, organised an international conference on “the Rule of Law as a Practical Concept”.

The conference was held in Lancaster House, London on 2 March. Programme in English and in French [PDF, 68 KB, new window].

The Rule of Law is, together with Human Rights and Democracy, one of the three pillars of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe's recent Report, prepared by the Venice Commission, on this subject (www.venice.coe.int/docs/2011/CDL-AD(2011)003rev-e.pdf), has concluded that the rule of law comprises several core features.

Representatives of the Member States, the Council of Europe, the judiciary and the academic world were invited to discuss in a practical manner two essential aspects of the rule of law: the quality of the laws and the control of executive discretion in implementing the laws in order to prevent arbitrariness.

The intended outcome of the conference was to inform the drafting of practical guidelines for policy makers and legislators in these fields. The conclusions of the conference will be presented to the Committee of Ministers during the UK Chairmanship, along with concrete plans for follow up by the Venice Commission.

What do we mean by ‘the rule of law’?

The Council of Europe aims to promote three key principles: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Much has been written about the first two, but the rule of law still lacks clear definition. The Venice Commission set about remedying this situation with an excellent report approved in March last year. Now the UK Presidency has taken the work a step further with an expert conference on the Rule of Law as a Practical Concept ..

The Conference in London at Lancaster House on 2 March, brought together more than sixty highly qualified delegates and speakers from both political and legal backgrounds. Coming from both the established democracies in the West and the new democracies in the East of the continent, they examined relevant issues, such as the quality of laws and preventing arbitrariness in the application of the law.

Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell, Director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, a former member of the Venice Commission and one of four authors of the Report that underpinned discussions, drew the conclusions.

The Report offers a checklist of forty-six questions which states are invited to answer to show how well the Rule of Law applies in their countries. The questions are grouped under six headings: a) Legality or the supremacy of the law, b) Legal certainty, c) Prohibition of arbitrariness, d) Access to Justice before independent and impartial courts, e) Respect for human rights, and f) Non-discrimination and equality before the law.

A future meeting of the Venice Commision may well consider some of the (self) assessments of member states against this checklist.