Perhaps Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary at the time, should have given Miss Shoesmith more of a chance to put her case (although it isn’t true that she was denied a hearing altogether: she was able to put her arguments to Haringey Council, the body that fired her). But, as Mr Balls said on Friday, it wouldn’t have made any difference: the case against her was just too overwhelming. Ministers, he argued, must have the power to make decisions that they believe to be in the public interest promptly and effectively, without having the judges weigh in a couple of years later and substitute their own judgment.
What the judges did is a judgment, of course, that\’s what judges issue.
But in the other sense of the word, \”using their judgment\”, that\’s exactly what Balls did and the judges didn\’t. And that\’s why we have this whole law thing, courts and all.
Ministers should not be able to impose their judgment upon the rest of us: they must act within the structure of the laws that they themselves are responsible for.
This is known as \”the rule of law\” and is one of those things that we English pretty much invented. The man in power doesn\’t get to do what he likes (or thinks in his judgment is in the public interest), but only what is already written down that he is allowed to do. He must, although he be elected and ever so high and mighty, follow the same procedures as the rest of us.
For example, they may not drive and talk on a mobile phone at the same time, may not claim more expenses than the system allows, may not speed, may not attempt to pervert the course of justice, may not perjure themselves, to give examples of what Ministers have been found guilty of/suspected of in recent decades.
In the same manner a Minister cannot fire someone in violation of the Common Law right to natural justice: just as no other employer in the country is allowed to do so. To say nothing of the web of law which entangles any employer trying to fire someone even while honouring that right.
Don\’t forget, this law stuff, this civil liberties stuff, the whole set of assumptions about public hearings, assumptions of innocence, juries, double jeopardy, the rule of law. The are not quaint archaic hangovers, they are not there just to hamper the pursuit of the guilty.
They are there to protect us, the citizenry, from the politicians, the people wielding the power of the State.
N\’ Balls can go off teabagging elsewhere for that\’s the way it has to remain if we are to continue to be free people in a free country.