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October 13, 2011

The Sovereignty of Parliament or the Rule of Law?

By Professor Vernon Bogdanor - Professor of Government, Oxford University.

Magna Carta Lecture

Thank you for the great if not excessive honour you have done me by inviting me to deliver the second Magna Carta lecture. The first, delivered last year, was given by that most distinguished former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who was not only a great judge but also a great writer on the law. Indeed, he combines, so it has always seemed to me, the best qualities both of the lawyer and of the academic. When I reread his lecture, I was reminded of a comment made by the greatest of American novelists, Henry James, who, to our immense benefit settled on these shores, and who says of one of his characters, that he had `the wisdom of learning and none of its pedantry’. Lord Woolf is a difficult act to follow, especially for someone, like myself, who is not a lawyer. Admittedly, I was promoted, inaccurately, by `The Times’ in a recent article, to be `a leading constitutional lawyer’ Sadly, I am not. F.E.Smith once said that the law was an arid but remunerative mistress. In me, I fear, you will see only the arid side.

I am in fact a Professor of Government. But, of course, no one can hope to understand modern government without at least a smattering of legal knowledge. I am therefore, in a sense, a parasite battening upon lawyers, since my understanding of government has been so much influenced and enriched by the writings of lawyers – both the practitioners and the academics. I only wish that I could have given back as much as I have taken.

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The Sovereignty of Parliament or the Rule of Law?



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