The BBC reports from Nigeria that the swearing in of the new Chief Justice by the outgoing Chief Justice is illegal.  According to an unnamed lawyer the Chief Justice must be sworn in by the President, Umaru Yar’Adua, who is currently hospitalized in Saudi Arabia.  The article reports the current ceremony was based on the Oaths Act.

Link to the article here.


The first permanent corruption court was established in 150 BC in Rome.  It has a civil procedure and senators as jurors.  In 122 BC the court the procedure became criminal and the jurors equities (a class of citizens drawn from the cavalry).  Berry notes that the court became a political battleground between the senators and equities and thus in 81 BC the courts were reformed and senatorial juries were re-established.  During his prosecution of Verres, a corrupt former Governor of Sicily, Cicero dramatically illustrates the influence of these changes in order to appeal to the senatorial jury’s sense of justice and their need for political legitimacy:

I will tell the Roman people how it is that, when juries consisted of equestrians, there was for nearly fifty years not even the least suspicion of a juror ever having accepted a bribe in return for giving a particular verdict; how it is that, once the courts had been transferred to the senatorial order and the Roman people’s control over each one of you had been removed, it was possible Quintus Calidius to declare on his conviction that nat ex-praetor could be convicted honourably for less than three million sesterces … (para 38)

This prompts me to tell you of a remark which I recently made … when the rejection of jurors was being held … I said that I thought that there would come a time when foreign peoples would send delegations to Rome to request that the extortion law and this court be abolished.  For if there were no courts, they believe that each governor would only carry off enough for himself and his children.  With the courts as they are now, on the otehr hand, they reckon that each governor carries away enough for himself, his advocates, his supporters, the president of the court, and the jurors — in other words, an infinite amount. (para 41).

Cicero, In Verrem I in D. H. Berry (tr) Cicero: Political Speeches (OUP, Oxford 2009).

Hobbes on the ideal, good judge (in Leviathan, Of Civil Law, para 28):

The things that make a good judge, or good interpreter of the laws, are, first, a right understanding of that principal of law of nature called equity; which depending not on the reading of other men’s writings, but on the goodness of a man’s own natural reason, and meditation, is presumed to be in those most, that have had most leisure, and had the most inclination to meditate thereon. Secondly, contempt of unnecessary riches, and preferments.  Thirdly, to be able in judgment to divest himself of all fear, anger, hatred, love and compassion.  Fourthly, and lastly, patience to hear; diligent attention in hearing; and memory to retain, digest, and apply what he hath heard.

Hobbes on civil law

December 27, 2009

Hobbes’s Leviathan includes an amazing chapter on law: Of Civil Law (Chapter XXVI). It comes in Part 2: Of Commonwealth, where Hobbes lays out how man escapes the evils of the state of nature by forming communities under a sovereign, i.e. the leviathan.  Eight main points summarise his system of law:

  1. The legislator in all commonwealths, is only the sovereign, be he one man, as in a monarchy, or one assembly of men, as in a democracy, or aristocracy.
  2. The sovereign of a commonwealth, be it an assembly, or one man, is not subject to the civil laws.
  3. When long use obtaineth the authority of a law, it is not the length of time that maketh the the authority, but the will of the sovereign signified by his silence.
  4. The law of nature, and the civil law, contain each other, and are of equal extent. For the laws of nature, which consist in equity, justice, gratitude, and other moral virtues on these depending, in the condition of mere nature are not properly laws, but qualities that dispose men to peace, and obedience.
  5. If the sovereign of one commonwealth, subdue a people that have lived under other written laws, and afterwards govern by the same laws, by which they were governed before; yet those laws are the civil laws of the victor, and not of the vanquished commonwealth. For the legislator is he, not by whose authority the laws were first made, but by whose authority they now continue to be laws.
  6. [T]he two arms of a commonwealth, are force and justice; the first whereof is in the king; the other deposited in the hands of the parliament.
  7. In all courts of justice, the sovereign is he that judgeth: the subordinate judge, ought to have regard to the reason, which moved his sovereign to make such law.
  8. [T]hat the law is a command, and a command consisteth in declaration … we may understand, that the command of the commonwealth, is law only to those, that have means to take notice of it.

City of Vice

December 26, 2009

Fantastic historic drama on the establishment of a modern, urban police force in 18th Century London–the Bow Street Runners.  Channel 4 website found here.

While visiting Australia last summer (actually winter) I decided to read some Australian history, something I’ve been wanting to do in some time.  There’s obviously a lot written, but in the end I settled on four main works: One, an overview piece, MacIntyre’s Concise History of Australia; two, a topical and more controversial piece, Hirst’s Sense and Nonsense in Australian History; and three and four, two more in-depth pieces on issues that caught my eye: H. V. Evatt’s study of the Rum Rebellion of 1808 and Alan Morse’s account of the establishment of local government.  I won’t summarize the books–as it turns out they all have their strengths and weaknesses–but in separate posts I’ll highlight some issues or events that I thought were interesting.


December 26, 2009

Since arriving in Oxford, on September 29th, I’ve totally forgotten about this blog I optimistically established over the summer holidays.  So, my new year resolution is to write one post a week.  I’ve a few posts I drafted last summer that I’ll try to fix up first and then hopefully I’ll find my blog rhythm!